“Catholic Environmentalism”

By Catholic Rural Life on August 4, 2021

Ethical Food and Agriculture

Editors Note: This article is a part of our “From the Archives” series. The series highlights articles, stories or news snippets from the CRL publication archives that are still relevant or thought provoking for us today. In the Fall 2011 Catholic Rural Life Magazine, we interviewed Kevin and Mary Ford about their transition to full-time farmers. Recently, we contacted Kevin to see where their family is today, a decade after they began farming.

2011 interview with Kara Storey:

Last year Kevin Ford quit his job teaching theology at a Catholic high school in Wichita, Kansas, and moved himself and his family in with his in-laws. With three acres of borrowed land from his father-in-law, he quickly went from full-time teacher to full-time farmer. While the move happened overnight, it took time and many prayers for the Fords to realize God’s call in their hearts. Kevin longed for a small-scale, slower-paced life, but wasn’t attracted to “large tractors, large landholdings and large debt.” He felt drawn to rural life, but didn’t understand why. Kevin eventually discovered homesteading, the Catholic Land Movement and CRL. He also read church documents on agrarianism and farming and came across “Green Thomism” (the idea of finding man’s place in the created order), all of which led him to organic and sustainable practices on a small family farm.

“I wanted a way of life and a way of farming that would improve the land and make me truly a good steward because a steward is someone who takes care of something that doesn’t belong to him,” said Kevin, 27. “That’s what I realized with the land – I might call myself an owner of it, it’s my own farm, but it’s something that God has given me and I’m obligated as its steward to take the best care of it that I can.”

The Fords, who will be moving to their own farm in November near Kevin’s hometown of St. Leo, Kansas, don’t use pesticides or herbicides on their produce and plan to have some pasture-raised animals on their new property. The six-and-a-half acre farm will have one half devoted to vegetables, which the Fords will sell through a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) in Wichita.

For Kevin’s wife, Mary, growing organically isn’t just important environmentally, but also benefits their family’s health. Growing organically and sustainably uses what God has given them, she said. “It just makes sense,” said Mary, 27. “You can argue it out through reason, but really it’s been in my heart more than anything else – an understanding that goes deeper than reason that this is the way God intended it to be.”

Besides not using chemicals on the land, the Fords said they care for creation by working toward simplicity in their home. They don’t watch television, rarely listen to the radio and process much of their own food to eliminate packaging and dependence on outside food sources. “We want a way of life that is sustainable, that we can pass on to our children that they can continue and their children can continue and their children can continue, rather than degrading the land,” Kevin said.

In April 2021, we checked in with Kevin and his family to see how his family farm has changed over the past ten years. Kevin writes:

I remember that original article well. It was written right at the end of our first year of farming/gardening. We are still farming ten years later, but our story has been full of challenges along the way.

We have been farming in some capacity since I quit my teaching job in 2010. When the original article was published, we were living in Topeka and just getting started. A few months after the article we moved back to my hometown (St. Leo, KS with a population of 21) and started a farm. We had a reasonable amount of success the first year, but the following two years were full of biblical droughts, hailstorms, and grasshoppers. We ended up selling our entire infrastructure and moving back to Topeka, KS.

Our current farm is located on the southern edge of Topeka, KS, where we have been in operation since 2017. We utilize six high tunnels and 1.25 acres of ground for our operation. We organically grow 30-40 varieties of cut flowers, and around 30 varieties of produce. Our most popular items are hand tied bouquets, head lettuce, thin-skinned cucumbers, and cherry tomatoes. Everything is sold at the Topeka Farmer’s Market and through our CSA. We sell out every weekend, and often have enormous lines at our booth. 

Our daily rhythm of life changes with the season. Right now (April) it is planting season. I get out in the morning and try to get as much planted during the day as possible. During the winter I do a lot of writing and I am working on a fiction book involving Great Plains wildlife. I also do some maintenance work in the colder months to make ends meet. We homeschool our children and belong to the permanent community at the St. Lawrence Catholic Campus Center at the University of Kansas. We help prepare engaged couples for marriage at the center, and really love being involved there. We share most of our meals together as a family, and end each day with family prayers.

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