Five Simple Ways to Thank Food Producers

vegetables-752153_1920As Thanksgiving approaches, I hope you are anticipating time with family and friends, or at least, some way to celebrate your gratitude for God’s many blessings in your life.  It is good that our nation has the wisdom to set aside a day to give thanks to God for his many blessings, as a nation, as families, or as individuals.

Among the many things for which we are most grateful are freedom, family, health, faith, and, especially on this feast of Thanksgiving, food!  In a world where hunger is a daily struggle for many, it is particularly important for us to reflect upon our many blessings.  

Thanksgiving has been a time to give thanks for another year’s harvest, and for a stable and safe food system in our country. Perhaps we could look a little deeper behind the food that we will enjoy this Thanksgiving and reflect upon the many men and women who work to put that food on our table.

Here, I am thinking of the many farmers, ranchers, growers, and field laborers who produce our food. For while we are certainly thankful for their tireless work, the circumstances in which many of our food producers labor don’t always reflect this gratitude: migrant farm workers are sometimes exploited by their employers, exposed to demeaning and harmful conditions and paid less than a livable wage; small family farmers are threatened by powerful economic pressures and are often forced to give up their way of life for the sake of “efficiency” and consumerism; and beginning farmers, those who wish to dedicate themselves to producing for others, are often faced with near-insurmountable obstacles when getting started.

This Thanksgiving, perhaps we can take the time to pray for all of them, particularly those laborers who suffer unjust working conditions.  And perhaps we may be moved beyond gratitude to some practical actions that could bring about a more just food system.

Here are five suggestions:

1. Buy local. The best way to support food producers, especially ones with smaller operations, is to do so directly with your dollars. Join a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program or become a member of a local food co-op. Or, use a directory like Local Harvest to identify food producers in your area and make a visit!

2. Volunteer. There are a lot of organizations out there working for a more just food system, and they need your help. Check out volunteer opportunities with groups like Food Tank, Migrant Worker Justice, and the National Young Farmers Coalition.

3. Communicate with policymakers. There are some great initiatives seeking justice in our food system, but they won’t go anywhere if our policymakers don’t know they have public backing. If you want to see a food system that’s more supportive of food producers and protects the dignity of farm workers, tell your elected officials.

4. Support dedicated organizations. Groups like Catholic Rural Life are dedicated to applying Catholic social teaching to issues in agriculture. Consider supporting their good work by making a donation.

5. Spread the word! Many people are simply unaware of the need for justice in our food system. Help change that by spreading the word via social media about the importance of being grateful for and supportive of our food producers (You can start by sharing this post!)Bishop-Etienne-291

God bless you and your loved ones this Thanksgiving!

 

Bishop Paul D. Etienne is the bishop of the Diocese of Cheyenne, Wyo., and the president of Catholic Rural Life.

 

 

The Blessings, Challenges, and Opportunities of Rural Ministry

Bryce Evans, Saint Paul Seminary School of Divinity

Bryce Evans, Saint Paul Seminary School of Divinity

This past August, seminarians from the third year theology class at the Saint Paul Seminary in Saint Paul, Minnesota gathered for a week-long class on Catholic ministry in rural settings.  The course was led by Mr. Jim Ennis, national director of Catholic Rural Life, and Dr. Christopher Thompson, academic dean and professor of Moral Theology at the Saint Paul Seminary. PresentationFs on Catholic Rural Life included reflections from clergy engaged in rural ministry, discussion of Pope’s latest encyclical on the care of creation, and tours of local farms owned and operated by Catholic parishioners.

The week afforded us a wonderful opportunity to reflect upon a much-overlooked aspect of contemporary Catholic life: the unique blessings and challenges of rural ministry, along with the powerful opportunities it presents for evangelization and cultural renewal.

These can be easy to forget in an age in which the population is ever more concentrated in urban communities. Often this is at the expense of depleted rural communities, which, in the face of smaller family sizes and economic pressures, have survived in many places only through a more and more industrialized farming practice.  This is not to say that there are not yet many vibrant small communities to be found across our country. There surely are. But it can be easy for the Church today to focus its attention on “where the people are” as the primary place for the gospel to “confront the culture.” In doing so, we can neglect and underestimate the possibilities of “smaller places.”

There is a power in growing things, as there is a power in places that daily confront us with God’s handiwork in these growing things. Such places can teach us basic lessons and values that can easily get overshadowed in cityscapes, dominated as these are by what Pope Francis calls the “technocratic paradigm” and the illusion that human industry is the source of all things. The country, by contrast, confronts us with life, unplanned and unmanaged abundance, a force and a power in things that precedes all human invention. It connects us to the Creator, and helps people to find their place in the great symphony of created things.

In short, field and air, plant and animal have a knack for opening people up to God, far better than steel and concrete.

One of the matters discussed during the course of our week was the risk that even this place of opening might be effectively closed-up through the industrialization of farming and the simultaneous squeezing out of once vibrant communities. But this risk carries with it an opportunity to become a primary place for the re-assertion of basic human values, values that our society is in grave danger of forgetting.

If symphonies and galleries forget beauty, universities truth, and governments goodness, perhaps it is here, through the pulpit, altar, celebration, and discipleship of the rural parish, that we can witness the re-birth of culture (always necessary) through the re-integration of worship, community, and the tilling of the land.  It is no coincidence that culture and cultivation share the same word as their root (cult is Latin for worship).

For this seminarian, the biggest take-away from our week of considering the realities of rural Catholic life was excitement at the possibilities latent in such a ministry. A rural ministry demands great imagination and investment, but at the same time promises great yield.

As one of our presenters suggested to us in class, perhaps the best place to plant the seeds of the new evangelization is the place where seeds are planted in the dirt. As Our Lord put it: the fields are ripe for the harvest.

 

Bryce Evans is a third year seminarian at the Saint Paul Seminary School of Divinity, studying for the Archdiocese of Saint Paul-Minneapolis.