Connecting our past to our future: Growing faith and community alongside food

Sheldon C. Good, Salford
shelds3@gmail.com

jill-1.jpgIn 1999, Kenny Chesney sang about why “she thinks my tractor’s sexy.” During the past decade, we’ve expanded Chesney’s claim – because now, farming is sexy.

Country music aside, Facebook, the Obama family, and Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution all contribute to the recent popularity of farming. For many people, life doesn’t involve dirty fingernails, overalls, and an almanac. But for an increasing number, farming is cool again (though some have always thought so). Whether or not one actually digs in the dirt, something about rediscovering the spiritual value of God’s abundant earth stimulates heart, mind, body, and soul.

Years ago, people worked the fields from dusk till dawn. Now the closest many get to dirt is by playing Farmville on Facebook (long ago, we played SimFarm). But Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” campaign is bringing healthy, local food back, with plans to eradicate childhood obesity. She recently described her “mission as first lady” as creating ways for families to make “manageable changes that fit with their schedules, their budgets, and their needs and tastes.”

Like Obama, Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution TV series on ABC documents how a grassroots campaign to curb obesity starts with getting families excited about local farming. Though a classroom of first-graders can’t tell the difference between a tomato and a potato, they can all identify French fries. But days later, after a dose of the food revolution, the six-year olds can all identify an eggplant when they see one.

Part of the reason why our children can’t identify produce is because, over time, farming has become industrialized. As author Bill McKibben says, efficiency and growth have taken over our food system. “Our affluence isolates us ever more,” McKibben says in his book Deep Economy. “What ties are left to cut? We change religions, spouses, towns, professions with ease.” But at Living Hope Farm in Harleysville, Pa., my family is busy putting some of these ties back together.

I was recently led in an exercise to reclaim my personal heritage. I often think about my ancestral lineage in linear terms (birthdates, jobs, etc.) – data I basically memorized as an adolescent for my seemingly irrelevant school projects. However, I don’t usually consider how strands of my ancestral history are woven together, or how they intersect with other people’s strands. So as our country focuses on jobs, jobs, jobs – I too began reflecting on jobs, on the vocational history of my family.

From what I can gather, nearly all of my ancestors were farmers. Up until my grandparents, both sides of my family – whether living in Pennsylvania or Virginia – farmed small plots of land, which supplied them with much of their food and income. But then both of my grandfathers, Emory Good and Marvin Clemmer, traded in their tractors for automobiles and hit the road as businessmen. In 1947, Emory started a plumbing company. And after spending years selling produce and meat in Philadelphia, Marvin switched mid-course to join a direct-selling company. My extended family became successful entrepreneurs at the expense of being grounded in our backyards; we have benefited greatly.
So the generational story goes for many families living among the farmlands of Southeastern Pennsylvania and the Shenandoah Valley. As the “Greatest Generation” (my grandparents) left farming, “Baby Boomers” (my parents) were raised with new vocational possibilities, and Millenials (me) haven’t looked back. Over the years, many of us have enjoyed the benefits of grocery stores, agribusiness, and Sunday afternoon shopping.

Until now.

Farming activists come in all varieties: an ignoramus addict of Facebook’s Farmville game; a twinkle-eyed Obama supporter; a dedicated vegetarian; or something in between. No matter where one lives, this nation is noticeably rediscovering its farming roots. Because after 500 years of rushed technological innovation, people are noticing that we’re standing on what author Bill McKibben calls “the shard ridge between the human past and the posthuman future.” Living Hope Farm is here to help reverse this trend, by growing faith, food, and community.

farm-2.jpgOver the past few months at the farm, a greenhouse and hoop house have both been installed. Jill Landes, the lead farmer, is currently working alongside her full-time interns, planting for an 80-member CSA. In addition, they are also growing for two families in the Bridge of Hope Program and making connections with the Germantown area of Philadelphia. Several regular volunteers have even graciously contributed countless hours to this mission.

Though it certainly exists on Indian Creek Road in Harleysville, Living Hope Farm is more than an earthly phenomenon. The farm is an opportunity for people to put faith into action. Farming can be spiritual. It’s a chance to rediscover values of corporate faith, local food, and loving community. And for many of us, it’s an opportunity to realize what it means to be living testimonies to our ancestral heritage of farming and entrepreneurship.

Ultimately, the best farming (including at Living Hope Farm) shifts our economy – and our relationships – away from hyper-individuality and towards each other. McKibben says this way of living requires us to “reorient your personal compass” and “live with a stronger sense of community in mind.”

There’s interest in growing food, faith, and community, so let’s get involved. May we all consider what it means to reconnect with our food, our families, and our farms.

photos provided by Living Hope Farrn
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