Faith, Family Farms & Food Access

By Robert Gronski on February 24, 2014

Ethical Food and Agriculture

Jim Ennis, our executive director, ventured out to California this past weekend for a conference hosted by the Interfaith Sustainable Food Collaborative. The theme of their gathering this year was “Faith, Family Farms & Food Access” and how congregations can support local farms and help provide healthy food access for all.

Jim Ennis was one of the featured presenters, along with Francesca Hyatt, project director of Come to the Table based in North Carolina, and Armando Nieto, executive director of the Community Food and Justice Coalition based in Oakland, California. More about them and their good work in a moment.

The Interfaith Sustainable Food Collaborative, active in northern California, organized their one-day gathering to promote the idea of faith-based community gardens through educational forums and “ample participation, discussion and problem-solving” to empower congregational leaders.

According to the host planners, the conference was designed to inspire participants about the projects that communities of faith are advancing locally. Jim and other presenters talked about successful models in different parts of the country that showed how faith groups blended with sustainable agriculture and food justice.

More than a gathering of faith-based leaders and groups engaged in sustainable food systems, the conference drew in farmers seeking to develop direct ties with local groups and communities. That’s the only way to re-build local food systems and develop pathways to a new agriculture.

By the way, the conference took place in San Rafael, just north of San Francisco. No doubt there was talk about the persistent drought in California, even as everyone must have been welcoming the forecast of rain throughout the week. Perhaps Jim Ennis will have more to report when he returns.

Come to the Table

Our blog readers might want to hear more about the other presenters at the conference. As mentioned above, Francesca Hyatt is the project director of Come to the Table. This program was one of the pioneers of interfaith food and faith work. Francesca discussed some of the lessons learned in North Carolina and how that can guide others in setting up programs in their towns or communities.

The fundamental purpose of Come to the Table is to show how people of faith relieve hunger in their communities while also supporting local and sustainable agriculture. That means working with local farmers, so project leaders included farmers as well as ministers – and more than that: farm workers, food pantry directors, community gardeners and lay leaders also become part of the project team. Together they work to relieve hunger and strengthen just and sustainable agriculture in their locality or region.

Visit their website to learn more and be sure to check out their Blog postings.

Also, you can download The Come to the Table Guidebook, a 40-page electronic publication that includes an overview of the theology and issues surrounding farming and food security in North Carolina, perspectives from faith leaders, easy tools for identifying the needs and resources in your community, example projects for congregations to relieve hunger and support local food production, and a resource list.

Community Food and Justice Coalition

Another presenter at the conference was Armando Nieto of the Community Food and Justice Coalition. He spoke about food justice and successful programs in the Oakland area, including policy work to expand access to healthy food for low-income people and communities of color.

Besides local and state efforts, the Community Food and Justice Coalition collaborates with others on national initiatives to develop and support a food system that is equitable, healthy, environmentally sustainable, and community-driven. You can see quite a bit about the recent Farm Bill on their Blog.

Eating as a Moral Act

As I’m sure Jim Ennis shared with everyone at the conference, eating is a moral act. This of course is our long-time campaign to reconnect people of faith – really, all people – to a better understanding of how our food is grown and the choices we can make help create a fair, just and sustainable food system.

As these other groups have done in their advocacy work, we try to show how church and community supported agriculture can work together.

Besides expanding the base of the sustainable agricultural movement in our communities, we need to keep working to improve public policy – even if the Farm Bill isn’t always the most fulfilling way to do that! (See blog postings below.)

We greatly appreciate and respect the efforts of the Interfaith Sustainable Food Collaborative to share models, strategies and resources across faith traditions to help leaders bring programs and best practices to their congregations and faith centers.

I’m realizing now we can do more on our website to provide the type of resources and information to help parishes do this. (We will soon refresh our web section on the Ethics of Eating, so please stay tuned!)

For now, let me again direct you to the Interfaith Sustainable Food Collaborative website and suggest you take a look at their ResourcesPrograms and Get Involved webpages. These might give you ideas and inspire you to do something similar in your own parish, community or state.

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