A local church book group recently read Barbara Kingsolver’s book, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, about how her family moved from Tucson to the family farm in Virginia in order to raise and eat only locally grown foods. The author explains how foods today are trucked and shipped from farms thousands of miles away so people can have a huge selections of fruits, vegetables, and meat year round. The problem is that having so many options has resulted in consuming foods that are no longer fresh, less nutritious, and more costly to the environment as well as the consumer.
In the Huffington Post, Washington DC Pastor Carol Howard Merritt points out that this creates an opportunity for parishes in make a difference in their communities. When Jesus spoke to his neighbors, he made a point of dining with them. Today, worshippers continue that tradition with the Eucharist, sharing the bread and wine. Local churches can take it a step farther by starting their own local markets or gardens and sharing the food with the neighborhood as well as the needy.
What can congregations do? Merritt suggests:
Start a Farmer’s Market. A farmers market supports local growers and the community. Churches have parking lots and church buildings, lawns, and storage areas where local farmers can sell their produce.
Glean for local soup kitchen. After the market, parishioners can “glean” from the perishable fruits and vegetables that cannot be sold at the next market. Others can deliver the nutritious produce to the local homeless shelter.
Encourage farmers market nutrition programs. Because of the cost, those living on lower incomes cannot afford fresh produce and have been raising their children on high calorie, subsidized foods to make the money go farther. On a fixed income, seniors too have trouble affording healthy foods. The USDA sponsors a nutrition program for low-income seniors, women, infants, and children that allows them to use coupons at local markets—if communities provide local markets.
Begin a community garden. Churches often have areas where they can start their own garden. Congregations can commit to keeping up their gardens or sharing with other denominations in a community garden to provide fresh produce for their neighborhoods.
As spring approaches, and the long hard winter begins to thaw, it might be a good idea to start planning now so congregations can start turning the soil as early as possible.