Friday, October 12, 2007

Family Farming

Family Farming isn't anything new, it's pretty much the only way it can be done. But with the modern industrial farming that has plagued the modern agricultural work, family farming is a novel idea. Christianity Today has an article this month "The Good Shepherds: A small but vigorous movement believes that in farming is the preservation of the world." The story intrigued me and has got me thinking.

The other day Brett, Lisa and I were traveling to Kokomo to visit Lisa's brother, and she was telling us about her husband Rod's new job with Norfolk-Southern as a dispatcher. He's in training now, but she was explaining the other day about a recent train wreck he described to her that involved a tanker of pickle juice. We had a good laugh about that - I never thought about pickle juice as something hauled by trains. It got me thinking - again - about how the food in my fridge got there. I know how it got there from the grocery store, but how did it get to the store? And ultimately, where did it come from and how was it created? I thought about the Vlasic Baby Midget pickles sitting in my fridge, and I wondered why the pickle juice that my pickles hibernate in had to be hauled in a train.

Monday on my way home from Chicago I listened to a sermon by Rob Bell, and he was making salsa to illustrate a point. He remarked that food must die before we eat it so that we can live. His ripe Roma tomatoes must be plucked from their verdant vine - and the minute they are plucked, they are no longer living, but dying. But the food that is good for us must at one point be alive, and then die in order to nourish us. Rob mentioned that any food that was not alive, if consumed will not nourish us: ie. Twinkies and Mountain Dew are not made from living food, therefore they bring you death by consuming them. Interesting.

Finally, last year I did a major paper for my Anthropology class. I researched the impact of low-wage earnings upon urban families. Food processing plants pay low-wages, and the author I read who studied and observed the impact of these food processing plants upon the workers and their families - the impact of the wages and the work environment - it is apalling. The whole slaughter and separation process of the meat - be it chicken, turkey, beef - is disgusting. Not because it involves blood, but because the animals are treated as non-living things, merely a product to be dismantled; and because the workers are treated as less than animals, with inhumane working conditions, complete disregard for how the cruelty to the animals impacts the soul of the workers. Eating meat has not been the same since.

Farming runs in the family for both Tara and I: both of Tara's parents come from farming families, and my dad comes from many generations of farming - my mother's uncles ran a chicken farm for awhile. Gardening is currently a mild hobby for me - I'm growing a small plot of strawberries, raspberries and huckleberries; a few tomato plants, and a bunch of flowers and herbs. It's more for fun than anything else. I do it because I was always impressed with how much food my dad could grow out of the many gardens he has lovingly created, so I guess in my attempt to be like my dad, I try to grow something tasty and beautiful. But what if this kind of stuff could be a way of life? Growing food that is good for my family, is created in a good way, that allows our family to work hard together in a good way, and it taps into my environmental concern - tending to the earth in such a way that respects it and draws out of it the surging life imbedded in the dirt.

Back to the article: the Lehrer family of Illinois started a sheep farm, the dad left the executive world to become a shepherd. It is hard work, but they feel the LORD drew them into that way of life as a way to be disciples and help make disciples. The Hansen family of Wisconsin has seen the LORD use them to bless others in very profound ways. Of course one doesn't have to become a shepherd or a farmer to be used by the LORD. But in a world where families are disintegrating, where our health is appalling, and our environment poisoning us - is there a way of life that nourishes our families, that blesses our neighbors, and sows beauty and truth as disciples of Jesus? Polyface Farms in Virginia is a successful example. Maybe someday...

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