Wendell Berry - The Bible is an Outdoor Book and "outdoors we are confronted everywhere with wonders"


Took this picture at Schwabacher Landing in the Tetons earlier this summer.

“I don’t think it is enough appreciated how much an outdoor book the Bible is....It is best read and understood outdoors, and the farther outdoors the better. Or that has been my experience of it. Passages that within walls seem improbable or incredible, outdoors seem merely natural. This is because outdoors we are confronted everywhere with wonders;

we see that the miraculous is not extraordinary but the common mode of existence.

It is our daily bread.

Whoever really has considered the lilies of the field or the birds of the air and pondered the improbability of their existence in this warm world within the cold and empty stellar distances will hardly balk at the turning of water into wine – which was, after all, a very small miracle.

We forget the greater and still continuing miracle by which water (with soil and sunlight) is turned into grapes,”

– Wendell Berry, “Christianity and the Survival of Creation” in Sex, Economy, Freedom & Community

h/t Andrew Sullivan

Wendell Berry, the Inhabit Conference, community gardens, and the kingdom of God

Last week I had the privilege of attending the Inhabit Conference, a collaboration between the Seattle School of Theology and Psychology and the Parish Collective, a network of faith leaders equipping churches to live out the gospel in their neighborhoods. It was a wonderful collection of people seeking an alternative imagination for being the church in this modern, commodified, flattened cultural moment. In a fitting convergence of events, Wendell Berry gave the Jefferson Lecture in the Humanities on Monday. The Inhabit Conference and National Endowment for the Humanities lecture both expressed a prophetic call to reconnect with a sense of place and a responsibility to people.

The Chronicle in Higher Education had the following report on the Berry lecture:

Mr. Berry's speech was a discussion of affection and its power to bind people to community. It was also a meditation on place and those who "stick" to it—as caretakers and curators. "In affection we find the possibility of a neighborly, kind, and conserving economy," Mr. Berry said.

The opposite of the "sticker"—in the words of Mr. Berry's mentor, the writer Wallace Stegner—is the "boomer," those who "pillage and run."

"That we live now in an economy that is not sustainable is not the fault only of a few mongers of power and heavy equipment. We all are implicated," Mr. Berry said. Our relationship to the land and to community is increasingly abstract and distanced.

"By economic proxies thoughtlessly given, by thoughtless consumption of goods ignorantly purchased, now we all are boomers....." 

The antidote, Mr. Berry said, is affection, connection, and a broader definition of education—to study and appreciate practical skills like the arts of "land use, life support, healing, housekeeping, homemaking."

Berry's comments echo much of what I heard at Inhabit. In the midst of the growing wreckage of "boomer" models of church in North America, people shared stories about what it looks like to be a "sticker" church that specializes in affection, connection, and homemaking. As someone who battles mightily with my boomer instincts in leading the church, the conference refreshed my vision for a different, stickier path of leadership.

Part of the gift of the conference was to help me see the blessing of the stories that have unfolded in our community over the last couple of years. (The test of a good church conference is whether you go home feeling envious of God at work in other people's stories or encouraged by God at work in your own stories. Inhabit provided me with the latter.) Many spoke of starting community gardens, so I thought I'd share part of our story here as an example of how community gardens can serve as a living alternative to the "pillage and run" pace of life.

The story of the garden goes back four decades to the start of an iconic neighborhood pumpkin patch on the shores of the Spokane river, located next to a major north-south thoroughfare in the Spokane valley. Generations of children grew up in our vicinity making a seasonal pilgrimage to the pumpkin patch to pick out the perfect pumpkin and pluck it from the vine. Not only that, they got to see the field plowed, the seeds planted, and the plants growing as their family station wagons drove by the site in the spring and summer. It was a community-sustained umbilical to the land and a constant connection to the rhythms of springtime and harvest that have been lost in most communities.

Ten years ago Spokane County set out to widen the Argonne bridge and the pumpkin patch was designated as the lay-down area for all the heavy equipment and machinery required for the year-long construction project. I was told that tractors came and shaved off the two feet of black humus that had accumulated from the years of growing pumpkins in order to level the land. After the construction was completed the land was left as a hard-packed abandoned lot that served as a turnaround area for school buses and a shortcut for people walking through the neighborhood. The land was so hard it took a pick-ax to loosen enough soil for a soil-test. 

Four years ago people in the church and in the neighborhood started a conversation about the potential of recovering the land and the story of the land by turning the site of the old pumpkin patch into a community garden. I had only known that plot of land as an abandoned lot and it was only after these conversations started that I learned its history. The loss of connection to the land is like that, we not only lose the use of the land we lose the stories that at one time gave life to the neighborhood.

We knew we couldn't do it on our own as a church so we reached out to the neighors and other community partners. The paper mill that owns the land agreed to let us use it and they even donated the water and facilitated the donation of lumber and compost through their connections. We enlisted neighbors, the school district, a local group home, scouts, local landscaping businesses as co-conspirators in reclaiming the land. We even had a bunch of guerilla gardeners from the Twitterverse that came to help us get started. We joined together and named it the Pumpkin Patch Community Garden.

I'll let the pictures tell the rest of the story:




The garden has become a gathering place for families and neighbors.


One of our goals with the garden is not only to let people have a plot to use for personal use, we wanted to bring back the pumpkin patch. So along with individual raised beds we have some area for row crops for Second Harvest and a place for pumpkins. Last summer we had a bounty crop of pumpkins and invited children from a local group home to come over and choose a pumpkin. The rule was that they had to pick a pumpkin that they would carry to the car. 

Some of them pushed the rule about carrying the pumpkin to the limit. 

Others tried to find the perfect pumpkin. It took this little girl 15 minutes wandering the patch to find just the right one.

It was a wonderfully redemptive moment to see kids once again walking on this land with anticipation in their eyes and joy in their hearts about finding a pumpkin to call their own.

I imagine that when these children now drive by the pumpkin patch they remember the fruit of the land, they remember the richness of the soil, they remember the rhythms of the seasons, and the joy of the harvest. To use Berry's words they have a new sense of affection, for a land that sustains them and a community that is committed to a place, which serves as a tangible sign that they are part of a community that is committed to them. 

Along with this I think they have a better sense of God's redeeming work in the world and we in the church who have been involved with the garden have a better sense of this work as well. We better understand that the kingdom of God is not some abstract notion, it's like a community garden -- putting down roots in a place, redeeming abandoned places, and renewing affectionate relationships.

Thanks to those at the Seattle School and the Parish Collective for putting on the Inhabit Conference. It helped remind me of the God who is at work in our neighborhood.

World Trade Organization Tells U.S. Consumers They Aren't Allowed to Know Food's Country of Origin

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c2sgaO44_1c]

A recent ruling from the World Trade Organization has got me feeling like I need to initiate an "Occupy Your Grocery Store" movement. The WTO has declared that current U.S. food country-of-origin labeling laws for meat and produce are "illegal." Bloomberg News reports:

Canada and Mexico said the provisions impose unfair costs on their exports, reducing their competitiveness. Judges agreed that the policies meant beef and pork from Canada and Mexico were treated less favorably than the same U.S. products.

The article goes on the share the perspectives of farmers and industry insiders who lament that the program is "costly and cumbersome," and that the costs "far outweigh any benefits."

This may seem like an obscure, niche debate but I think it goes to the heart of the current crisis in food systems around the world. Industrialists insist that food is nothing more than a commodity that can be reduced to a product with nutritional content, a hunk of chemicals and proteins with a profit margin. In their ideal world a food item is not connected to anything--no farmer, no land, no community, no country, no watershed, no carbon footprint, no pesticide, no herbicide, no low-wage farm worker, nothing. The industrial food system is most efficient when the journey from farm to table is an undiscernable mystery, and the champions of this industry will keep pushing for more efficiency, as if it hasn't already been pushed too far.

I'm reminded of the John Muir quote from My First Summer in the Sierra where he observes: "When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe."

The problem with the industrial vision of storyless food is that it defies the truth that it is, in fact, "hitched to everything else." It's hitched to the endangered thin-brown line of topsoil that covers the earth. It's often connected to lies and deception (See "Most honey you buy at the store isn't honey"). It's part of huge debates about water wars and environmental destruction (see California water wars). Beef often has a sordid web of connections to things like heavy metals, antibiotic residues, clandestine cloning, ammonia soaking, and even fatalities

Food is more "hitched" than most things which is why the move to further separate consumers from the origin of foods is so disturbing. 

Wendell Berry sums up the current conundrum of consumers when he writes about our troubling ignorance about the ways our consumer items are "hitched":

...the first thought may be a recognition of one’s ignorance and vulnerability as a consumer in the total economy. As such a consumer, one does not know the history of the products that one uses. Where, exactly, did they come from? Who produced them? What toxins were used in their production? What were the human and ecological costs of producing them and then of disposing of them? One sees that such questions cannot be answered easily, and perhaps not at all. Though one is shopping amid an astonishing variety of products, one is denied certain significant choices. In such a state of economic ignorance it is not possible to choose products that were produced locally or with reasonable kindness toward people and toward nature. Nor is it possible for such consumers to influence production for the better. Consumers who feel a prompting toward land stewardship find that in this economy they can have no stewardly practice. To be a consumer in the total economy, one must agree to be totally ignorant, totally passive, and totally dependent on distant supplies and self-interested suppliers.

Berry concludes, and I tend to agree, that the best way to respond to this situation is to nurture "prosperous local economies." According to Berry, "Without prosperous local economies, the people have no power and the land no voice." In other words, buying from local farmers and producers is the best way to know the story of the items we buy. Instead of relying on a beauracracy of labeling rules, he says we need to take things into our own hands and develop relationships with people. If enough consumers start moving in this direction, demanding meaningful knowledge about the items we buy, then maybe industry representative will take note and respond.

Supporting local farmers like Rocky Ridge Ranch that was featured in the Spokesman Review this weekend is a great way to take a step in this direction. The Spokane Public Market and the Millwood Winter Farmers' Market, 3-6pm on Wednesdays at the Crossing Youth Center are other options worth considering. Consider making local farmers and producers a part of this year' Christmas shopping plans. 

Year of Plenty Book Update: Publisher's Weekly, Humane Society, and More Cowbell/Wendell Berry

Reviews keep coming in for Year of Plenty.

I really like David Crumm's review at Read the Spirit. More than anyone else, he grasped the way our focus on local living in Spokane opened us up to our global connection in Thailand. In describing the local-global focus of the book he writes: 

These two principles in their book make the “Year of Plenty” a work of genius—perhaps genius stumbled upon out of real-life necessity, but a work of genius, nonetheless. This Norman Rockwell family sewed together a patchwork quilt of principles that real people can duplicate—and that takes the century-old adage “Think Globally, Act Locally” one step further. The Goodwins—with modest means—managed to “Think Locally, Act Globally”!

Along with the above article the site has also posted a interview, which was especially fun because Nancy was given a chance to share her side of the story.

Speaking of Nancy, she wrote an article that went live today at Her.meneutics: the Christianity Today blog for women.

Other notable reviews include:

Amy Frykholm at the The Christian Century:

Goodwin writes with humor and insight. In one of my favorite passages, he takes the reader step by step through the connection between American Christianity and consumer culture. His discussion is personal and unassuming but also incisively critical and deeply theological. While I've felt this connection many times, I've never seen it laid out quite so clearly.

Christine Sine at Godspace:

I thoroughly enjoyed Craig’s stories and the way that he weaves his family’s journey to learn more about the food they eat, the community they live in and the global community of which they are a part with lessons of faith, life and God....I heartily recommend Year of Plenty to anyone who is grappling with issues of sustainability, environmental stewardship and simplicity.

Publisher's Weekly:

...this little book cheerfully demonstrates to suburban Joes and Joans that sustainable consumption is doable. It also honors God's earth. 

The Publisher's Weekly review dinged me a little for including too much Wendell Berry in the book. In my defense, the reviewer couldn't help but quote Berry in explaining that I quoted Berry too much. Wendell Berry is like the cowbell in the SNL skit with Christopher Walken and Will Ferrill. In the tradition of the cowbell sketch, all I have to say is, "Guess what? I have a fever and the only prescription is more Wendell Berry."

I'm really excited about the connections I've made with the faith outreach arm of the Humane Society of the USA. Karen Louden Allanach of the Humane Society wrote a very nice review.

On that note, The Humane Society is working with others to get Initiative Measure No. 1130 on the ballot in Washington State. The new law "would prohibit, with certain exceptions, confining hens in stacked enclosures or enclosures that limit the hens' movement, and would prohibit the sale of eggs in the shell from hens so confined. I will have petitions at the Millwood Farmers' Market that you can sign to help get this measure on the ballot.

I'm hoping in the next week there will be a 6 week small-group discussion guide available as a free pdf download.

People have been asking me about sales and I think they are going OK. If you are interested in helping get the word out about Year of Plenty, the most helpful thing would be to write a review at Amazon.com and Good Reads. I would also appreciate passing on the book and my name for any speaking opportunities at conferences, gardening clubs, churches, etc. 

Did Seattle and Portland Get Their Foodie Inspiration from Eastern Washington?

At least that's what Jeffrey Sanders claims in a recent Op-Ed at the Seattle Times. 

The roots of the contemporary food movement in the Northwest run far deeper than Seattle's hastily tilled parking-strip gardens. The movement is more geographically dispersed and firmly established than most of us realize. Most surprising, despite its coastal image, its birthplace is not Seattle or Portland. This region's food movement pioneers originated in ... Eastern Washington.

He goes on to explain that the 1974 World's Fair in Spokane started a conversation that sparked the proliferation of P-Patch community gardens in Seattle, and the formation of Northwest Tilth, and Oregon Tilth, two pioneering organizations in organic agriculture and whole-earth ecology. Most significantly, Sanders points out, these conversations east of the mountains planted the seeds that eventually led to the Organic Agriculture degree program at Washington State University.

Sanders concludes:

...if we can look beyond the Interstate 5 corridor for a sense of bioregional identity, the contemporary food movement still has the potential to connect east and west, city and country, and hopefully in a way that is more equitable and, one can hope, a little less precious.

There is irony in the fact that the modern food movement tends to be culturally centered in trendy, urban neighborhoods, when it's actually farmers and universities in rural areas that are pioneering sustainable practices in agriculture. Given the urban-centrism of the conversation, it too easily reflects some of the well-worn prejudices against country folks that led to derogatory labels like "redneck." (Until I read Wendell Berry's commentary on this and other labels like it, I never made the connection that these terms originated as ways to socially alienate farmers, especially in the south. Someone has a red neck because they are out in the fields working all day.)

These prejudices play out in more sophisticated ways in today's debates, where crunchy urban centers are painted as the centers of virtue when it comes to sustinability, and rural farmers are painted with a broad brush as Round-Up loving, earth-raping, titans of agriculture. Neither caricature reflects the reality on the ground. I have yet to meet a farmer who doesn't care for the land and the food it produces and our big cities have at least as many vices as they do virtues when it comes to food consumption.

As someone who lives on the east side of the mountains, and writes about food and culture, I share Sanders' sentiments.  There is a need for a more dynamic east-west interchange along I-90 that is at least as vital as the Seattle-Portland alliance that runs north-south along I-5. As he points out, this connection has been a key to past innovations in the Pacific Northwest food landscape, and holds potential to do the same in the future.

h/t Bike to Work Barb

28 Books in 28 Days - Christian Voices on Environment, Food, and Simple Living

Starting tomorrow, February 1, I will be reviewing 28 books in 28 days leading up to the release of my book, Year of Plenty, on March 1. Year of Plenty tells the story of our family's experience in 2008 consuming only what was local, used, homegrown, or homemade. Our four rules, scribbled on a Starbucks brochure in a fit of consumer fatigue, led us into wonderful conversations about locavores (people who eat local food), going green, farmers' markets, downshifters (people who intentionally seek to consume less), simple living, food not lawns, backyard chickens, and more. 

There are already some great books on these topics. The Omnivore's Dilemma, by Michael Pollan is a wonderful expose of how our far-flung food system has gone awry, and Alisa Smith and J.B. McKinnon pioneered the year-long-food-experiment genre with their book The 100 Mile Diet. (If I use the Canadian title to the book, it will be less obvious that I borrowed a little inspiration from their American released book, Plenty: Eating Locally on the 100 Mile Diet, for the title to my blog and now book. I wanted to call the blog Consuming Passions, but Nancy thought it sounded too much like a cheap romance novel or daytime soap opera. Of course, she is almost always right.) Barbara Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Miracle took it a step further by telling the tale of her family's year of eating local, and the beauty of her story is more than matched by the beauty of her prose. Colin Beavan firmly established the "bumbling eco-experimenter" genre with his book and movie, No-Impact Man, that tells the tale of seeking to live for a year with zero environmental impact in the middle of Manhattan. While Year of Plenty shares a literary eco-system with these books, it seeks to break new ground by offering a Christian reflection on these issues.

While Year of Plenty is based on a premise that there is a need for more Christian engagement with these important issues of the day, there certainly are other books that have already, in their own unique way, sought to flesh out an authentic Christian response. That's where the 28 books in 28 days project comes in. Earlier in the week I consulted the wisdom of my Tweeps and Facebook friends, and based on their counsel, I came up with a list of some of the most important contributions to date. I chose books that were overtly Christian in their perspective, with the exception of books by Wendell Berry and Bill McKibben. Their writings draw from the deep well of faith and their works are highly influential, so I thought it was important to include them. I tried to have a good representation of books in the areas of environmentalism, food, simple living, and redemptive consumption practices, which are the main themes covered in Year of Plenty. Most are more recently published but there are some classics in the mix. I picked one obscure book, titled MISSIONARY EARTHKEEPING (Modern Mission Era, 1792-1992: An Appraisal), that I found too intriguing to leave off. Some of the authors have more than one book on the topic so, in that case, I picked the one I thought to be the most important contribution.

Go here to see the full list on Springpad. The titles and authors are as follows in nor particular order:

  1. Simpler Living, Compassionate Life: A Christian Perspective, Michael Schut, Editor
  2. Farming As a Spiritual Discipline, Ragan Sutterfield
  3. The Amish Way: Patient Faith in a Perilous World, Donald B. Kraybill
  4. Living More with Less, Doris Janzen Longacre
  5. Global Warming and the Risen LORD: Christian Discipleship and Climate Change, Jim Ball
  6. Planetwise: Dare to Care for God's World, Dave Bookless
  7. Earth-Wise: A Biblical Response to Environmental Issues [EARTH WISE 2/E], Calvin B. DeWitt
  8. Redeeming Creation: The Biblical Basis for Environmental Stewardship, Fred H. Van Dyke
  9. MISSIONARY EARTHKEEPING (Modern Mission Era, 1792-1992: An Appraisal), Calvin Dewitt
  10. For the Beauty of the Earth: A Christian Vision for Creation Care (Engaging Culture), Steven Bouma-Prediger
  11. Deep Economy: The Wealth of Communities and the Durable Future, Bill McKibben
  12. The Paradise of God: Renewing Religion in an Ecological Age, Norman Wirzba
  13. The Unsettling of America: Culture & Agriculture, Wendell Berry
  14. Food & Faith: Justice, Joy, and Daily Bread, Michael Schut, Editor
  15. Scripture, Culture, and Agriculture: An Agrarian Reading of the Bible, Ellen F. Davis
  16. Bread for the World, Arthur Simon
  17. Natural Saints: How People of Faith are Working to Save God's Earth, Mallory McDuff
  18. Made to Crave: Satisfying Your Deepest Desire with God, Not Food [Paperback], Lysa TerKeurst 
  19. Enough: Contentment in an Age of Excess, Will Samson
  20. Everyday Justice: The Global Impact of Our Daily Choices, Julie Clawson
  21. A Climate for Change: Global Warming Facts for Faith-Based Decisions, Katharine Hayhoe
  22. Serve God, Save the Planet: A Christian Call to Action, Matthew Sleeth M.D.
  23. Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger: Moving from Affluence to Generosity, Ronald J. Sider
  24. Green Like God: Unlocking the Divine Plan for Our Planet, Jonathan Merritt
  25. The Consuming Passion: Christianity & the Consumer Culture, Rodney Clapp, Editor
  26. Saving God's Green Earth: Rediscovering the Church's Responsibility to Environmental Stewardship, Tri Robinson
  27. Tending to Eden: Environmental Stewardship for God's People, Scott C. Sabin
  28. The Spirit of Food: 34 Writers on Feasting and Fasting toward God, Leslie Leyland Fields, Editor

So what do you think? Does the list cover the most significant contributions or are there some that I've left off? You can lobby me to add books to the list but I'll only add them if you provide the blog post review along with the reason it is important to the conversation. I've read many of these books already, but there are many I haven't, so we'll see how it goes. I'll offer my perspectives on each book but will also reference The Englewood Review of Books for some of these titles. They are currently the go-to source for book reviews of books on these topics. If you're not following them already on Twitter or Facebook, you should be. 

Wendell Berry: Don't Wait for the Government to Fix the Food System

This morning President Obama signed into law the new Food Safety Bill that has been all the talk of the online food community. Go here for more background on how the much anticipated bill actually got to this point. But just as this milestone is achieved there is word that legislators may try to undercut the bill by choking off funding. According to the Hill this issue will be front and center with the new Congress:

Among the first controversies will be how to pay the legislation’s projected $1.4 billion cost over the first five years. Republicans taking over the House have warned they will not fund the bill. 

In following this story I feel a bit like I've been on a roller-coaster ride. Frankly, I'm weary of it and feeling a bit cynical about the government's ability to help fix what ailes our current food system. I'm reminded of a quote from Wendell Berry regarding our undue reliance on institutions to fix what is broken in society. Berry say:

We are going to have to rebuild the substance and the integrity of private life in this country. We are going to have to gather up the fragments of knowledge and responsibility that we have parceled out to the bureaus and the corporations and the specialists, and put those fragments back together in our own minds and in our families and households and neighborhoods. We need better government, no doubt about it. But we also need better minds, better friendships, better marriages, better communities. We need persons and households that do not have to wait upon organizations, but can make necessary changes in themselves, on their own...

A man (or woman) who is willing to undertake the discipline and the difficulty of mending his (or her) own ways is worth more to the conservation movement than a hundred who are insisting merely that the government and the industries mend their ways.

If you are concerned about the proliferation of trash, then by all means start an organization in your community to do something about it. But before - and while - you organize, pick up some cans and bottles yourself...

If you talk a good line without being changed by what you say, then you are not just hypocritical and doomed; you have become an agent of the disease.

So let's not wait for the government to fix what is broken in our communities. It is ultimately the responsibility of those of us that live in these neighborhoods and regions to innovate change. This is true with many things, but maybe especially with food. The food system follows where we spend our money on food. It's as simple and complicated as that.

Top Ten Posts of 2010 at Year of Plenty

According to Google Analytics these were the most popular blog posts on Year of Plenty in 2010.

1. Newsflash: Dairy Industry Wants You to Eat More Dairy - What's So Controversial About That?

This post created quite a stir. It got picked up by the president of Dairy Management Corp. and was emailed to all of his contacts. The folks at Domino's Pizza linked it all over the internet. James McWilliams at the Atlantic Monthly credited Bill Bishop at the Daily Yonder with being the first to grasp the way this story was being misreported, but I think I was the first one on the story. My first official big scoop.

2. World Comparison: Fresh vs. Processed Food Consumption

Google placed this high on their search criteria, so it has received a steady flow of clickers all year and also got picked up in some online communities.

3. How My Little Blog Out-Reported the New York Times

This was my follow up to the Newflash post about Dairy Management.

4. Roast House Coffee Newest Roaster on the Spokane Scene

This year I actually started doing some in-the-field reporting, visiting local businesses and writing up short narratives. Roast House was one of the first.

5. What Would You Do If You Had One Year to Live?

This was my first and only blog post to get "Dished," meaning Andrew Sullivan at the Daily Dish linked to it as one of his "Quotes of the Day". 

6. Wendell Berry: Gardening as Health Regimen and Holy Sacrament

This post got picked up a couple different places on the web.

7. American Farm Bureau President Declares War on "self-appointed and self promoting food experts" 

Unlike the post on Dairy Management where large ag interests were eager to see my blog as an asset, this post led to quite a push back from folks at the AFB and the conventional farming community. The AFB PR took issue with my characterization that the AFB president had declared war on consumers concerned with large ag. practices. 

8. Why You Shouldn't Rototill Your Garden

I did a whole series of gardening posts last Spring and this was the most popular of the bunch. Other popular gardening posts include; How to Turn Your Lawn Into a Vegetable Garden, Planning Your Garden Plot (Companion Planning, Rotation, and Location)How to Make Your Own Professional Seed Starting Soil Mix, Tips for Planting the Garden

9. How to Get Started Raising Chickens in Your Backyard: Choosing You Chickens

This was part of a series of posts on raising backyard chickens. The other posts included one on building and designing a chicken coop and another on convincing your spouse it's a good idea.

10. Year of Plenty | The Book

I'm told the book goes to print on January 15 and will be released on March 1, 2011.

Thanks for everyone who has contributed and commented on the blog in the last year. If you want to follow along in 2011 you can sign up for the RSS Feed here, you can follow the blog on Twitter here, or click the Like button below to follow on Facebook.


Wendell Berry | Christmas presents are no basis for relationship, love is a practice

image from consumingspokane.typepad.com
I'm recovering from completing my Doctoral dissertation earlier in the week, so I don't have a lot of inspiration for the blog at the moment. Between the book and the dissertation I've pumpled out 350 pages in the last 6 months. My internal inkwell of inspiration is running on empty, so I'm looking forward to switching it up and doing some reading in front of the fireplace.

Here's a re-post of Wendell Berry on Christmas presents:

Just in case you're wondering today if you need to buy one more present for the one's you love in your household, here's a good word from Wendell Berry from the book, "Conversations With Wendell Berry."

People who love each other need to have something they can do for each other, and it will need to be something necessary, not something frivolous. You can't carry out a relationship on the basis of Christmas and anniversary and birthday presents. It won't work.

You have to be doing something that you need help with, and your wife needs to be doing something that she needs help with. You do needful, useful things for each other, and that seems to me to be the way that a union is made...You're being made a partner by your partner's needs and the things that you're required to do to help...Love is not just a feeling; it's a practice, something you practice whether you feel like it or not. If you have a relationship with anybody - a friend, a family member, a spouse - you have to understand the terms of that relationship to do things for those people, and you do them whether you feel like it or not. If you don't it's useless...

This is what you learn as soon as you become a farmer, for instance. Once you get into a relationship with even so much as a vegetable garden, you realize that you have to do the work whether you want to or not. You may have got into it because of love, but there are going to be days when you are sick and you're going to have to do your work anyway. With animals, the work is even more inescapable. There's no way out if you have a milk cow, no reprieve...She makes the milk and you've got to go get it.

Wendell Berry, Thanksgiving, and the Pleasures of Eating

Noel Garden

Some helpful words for a Thanksgiving feast from Wendell Berry:

People who know the garden in which their vegetables have grown and know the garden is healthy will remember the beauty of the growing plants, perhaps in the dewy first light of morning when gardens are at their best. Such a memory involves itself with the food and is one of the pleasures of eating....The thought of the good pasture and of the calf contentedly grazing flavors the steak....A significant part of the pleasure of eating is in one's accurate consciousness of the lives and the world from which food comes.

Eating with the fullest pleasure - pleasure, that is, that does not depend on ignorance - is perhaps the profoundest enactment of our connection with the world. In this pleasure we celebrate our dependence and our gratitude, for we are living from mystery, from creatures we did not make and powers we cannot comprehend.

When we gather around the table tomorrow I'll take great pleasure in the thought of our turkey frolicking at Rocky Ridge Ranch and in the mystery of our multi-hued potatoes that were miraculously birthed from the soil in our backyard.

(Note: One of the hopes for my upcoming book is that it will introduce the writing and thought of Wendell Berry to a new audience. If there were a sub-subtitle for the book it would be, "What Happens When Wendell Berry Meets the Suburbs")

From Black Friday to Buy Nothing Day - Subverting the Consumer Culture


Friday, November 26 will be celebrated by most as a way to get the Christmas shopping season kicked-off. A lesser known way to celebrate the day after Thanksgiving is to pay homage to Buy Nothing Day. It's not that complicated. It just means buying nothing as a way to say "No" to our crazy consumer culture. There is a Christian movement that has some affinity with BND called the Advent Consipiracy where the invitation is to give "presence" instead of presents.

It was almost three years ago at the end of 2007 that we devised our own little conspiracy to subvert the status quo and explore more life-giving patterns of consumption. That plan turned into a year of consuming everything local, used, homegrown, or homemade. At the time we felt so stuck that it was hard to see that there are different ways of going at these rhythms of life. But after only a couple of months we realized that what we had thought was our fated destiny was actually a choice, and that our consumer ways need not be inevitable. At the time I said:

One lesson we're learning is that our previous patterns of consumption seemed so unchangeable. It was just the way the world was. Everybody did it that way. It was hard to imagine that there were other ways of doing things. We're learning as a family that all habits, patterns, and practices of consumption are changeable. It might take 5 months to feel comfortable with them, but nothing need be inevitable or set in stone.

Here's and excerpt from one of my favorite Wendell Berry poems to give inspiration for your own experiments and ways of living that don't compute with the status quo.

Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Libertation Front

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more
of everything ready-made. Be afraid
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know.

So, friends, every day do something
that won't compute. Love the Lord.
Love the world. Work for nothing.
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it.
Denounce the government and embrace
the flag. Hope to live in that free
republic for which it stands.
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man
has not encountered he has not destroyed.

Ask the questions that have no answers.
Invest in the millenium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.
Say that the leaves are harvested
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns....

As soon as the generals and the politicos
can predict the motions of your mind,
lose it. Leave it as a sign
to mark the false trail, the way
you didn't go. Be like the fox
who makes more tracks than necessary,
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

How Would Jesus Farm? Industrial and Sustainable Ag. Advocates Both Claim God is on Their Side

I follow various conversations in the agricultural world and I was intrigued to come across this post about the need to use Christian faith perspectives on feeding the hungry to support "modern" agricultural methods. Sarah Bedgar Wilson explains;

There are two main reasons why I feel Christians in agriculture are obligated to share the truths of why and how we farm/ranch within the context of faith:

  1. Those whom oppose modern agriculture already have a presence in Christian circles.  For example, The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) has strategically begun a “Faith Outreach” program. My own church is struggling with the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America’s (ELCA’s) draft social statement on “genetics” that discusses the use of genetics in agriculture. I could list many more examples, amongst all the major denominations.
  2. If we are faithful farmers and ranchers, following the command from the Lord to feed His people, then I believe He expects that we honor Him by sharing our testimonies on stewardship.  We also owe it to our fellow Christians who are not farmers/ranchers.  They are three to four generations removed from witnessing God’s miracles of growth and life in agriculture.

It is relevant, appropriate, and necessary that we in agriculture speak in terms of our faith about what we do.  Our consumers and our fellow Christians are demanding it.

Sarah is a Dairy Farmer in North Dakota and has a blog called Farmer on a Mission.

I have written from a Christian faith perspective on this blog generally in favor of sustainable agriculture. While the blog fades in and out of this focus on faith, my upcoming book fully expresses the way my Christian faith has informed my support, as a consumer, of local/sustainable agriculture and in some cases, my opposition to industrial ag. practices. There are certainly other more prominent voices whose faith informs their opposition to industrial agriculture. Wendell Berry and Joel Salatin are good examples of this.

The fact that people in the church, both consumers and farmers, are recognizing that faith should inform agricultural practices is very promising. It may actually be one of the most hopeful developments for sorting through the perplexing ethics of modern food.

Of course, there is always a danger that Jesus will simply be commandeered to support already established opinions and perspectives. This is the classic "Jesus is on my side!" debate that doesn't lead to any kind of helpful dialogue. (I'm as vulnerable to this possibility as anyone.)

It's also possible that Christian perspectives will simply be conflated with powerful secular voices. For example, the mission to "feed the world" tends to be the ethical catch-all for big agricultural interests like profit-seeking Monsanto. In response to questions of their practices they generally say, "Get off our back, can't you see we're trying to feed the world here." The danger is that the Biblical command to "feed the hungry" will be equated with Monsanto's mission to "feed the hungry." They are not saying the same thing even if they are using the same words.

I just spent a week with a friend who works with a Christian mission agency that works with impoverished villages around the world to develop sustainable agricultural practices toward the end of feeding the hungry. They have found in places like Haiti that you can't address the issue of hunger without addressing issues of deforestation and soil depletion. Maximum output at all costs is not the solution to world hunger.

I also recently spoke with Rev. David Beckmann who heads the Christian organization "Bread for the World." They focus their resources on lobbying Washington D.C. for policies and programs that help feed the hungry. He talked about the Farm Bill and how large agricultural interests have such a dominant voice in the process of forming the legislation that it's a challenge for other voices to be heard.

There is a great conversation to be had among people of faith around the issues of food and agriculture and I'm looking forward to seeing how the conversation develops and matures over the coming years.

Thanks Sarah for sharing your story and perspectives on faith and agriculture.

Christian Conference to Explore Intersections of Local Church, Land and Agriculture

image from flourishonline.org
Today is the last day of the outdoor Millwood Farmers' Market. This will be the conclusion of four years of hosting and running the market at Millwood Presbyterian Church. Being a Farmers' Market manager and a pastor has stretched the normal bounds of pastoral and church work, and has led many I'm sure to wonder what we're up to. In my upcoming book I have a whole chapter titled The Kingdom of God is Like a Farmers' Market, where I lay out the theological and cultural premise for the farmers' market as a ministry.

Far from being an isolated experiment, our church farmers' market is part of a larger exploration going on in North American churches, making connections between food, land and faith. One of the pioneering ministries, plowing new ground, (or if you prefer a more sustainable metaphor, direct-seeding new crops) is the Englewood Christian Church in urban Indianapolis, and more specifically their online ministry called, The Englewood Review of Books (ERB) by Chris Smith, which is part of their community development work. You can follow ERB on Twitter and Facebook. They offer some of the best comprehensive review of books and leaders making vital connections between faith and the environment, especially agriculture.

They will be hosting an upcoming conference titled A Rooted People: Church, Place and Agriculture in an Urban World. Claudio Oliver, one of their speakers, is a regular commenter on this blog from Brasil. I wish I could be there.

"Year of Plenty" Book Manuscript is Done and in the Hands of the Publisher

Picture: Our first year with the labyrinth garden in 2008.

After months of being holed up late at night writing and editing, the manuscript for a book based on this blog is done and if all goes as planned the editor will send it to the publisher today. It's being published by Sparkhouse Press, an independent division of Augsburg Fortress Publishers, the publishing house of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. The book shares the story of our experiences in 2008 consuming everything local, used, homegrown and homemade and reflects on the ways that our Christian faith intersects with those experiences.

There are already some great entries in the "year-long-experiment" genre, especially in the green living, local food arena. Animal Vegetable Miracle and No-Impact Man are the most high-profile examples. More broadly, Julie & Julia, Eat, Pray, Love, The Happiness Project, and The Year of Living Biblically have made a big splash in the publishing arena. It's such a common premise for a book that someone's created subtitle-o-matic to help authors come up with a subtitle for such experiments-turned-books.

Year of Plenty (subtitle yet to be determined) will be another entry in the year-long-experiment genre but will be unique in exploring how the Christian faith and the church enters into and engages the cultural cutting edge of locavores, downshifters, farmers' markets, Food Inc., backyard chickens, community gardens and Going Green. It includes some good practical advice about turning your lawn into a vegetable garden, how to get started raising chickens in your backyard and how to start a farmers' market. I think it will serve as a good introduction to Wendell Berry, whose writing and thought plays a prominent role in the book. I hope it will be accessible beyond the Christian/Church market but I'll let others be the judge of that.

And beware readers of the blog. You may just find some your past comments on the blog in the book.

So stay tuned for more info. Last I heard it's due to come out in March 2011, just in time for a new growing season in the garden.

Wendell Berry - On God, Creation and Pleasure

Here is more from Wendell Berry's latest collection of essays, What Matters Most: Economics for a Renewed Commonwealth. I will follow up on my post on a spirituality of sustainability from earlier in the week but this quote moves the topic forward until then.

"This curious world we inhabit is more wonderul than convenient; more beautiful than it is useful; it is more to be admired and enjoyed than used." Henry David Thoreau said that to his graduating class at Harvard in 1837. We may assume that to most of them it sounded odd, as to most of the Harvard graduating class of 1987 it undoubtedly would. But perhaps we will be encouraged to take him seriously, if we recognize that this idea is not something that Thoreau made up out of thin air.

When he uttered it, he may very well have been remembering Revelation 4:11: "Thou are worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honour and power: for thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created."That God created "all things" is in itself an uncomfortable thought, for in our workaday world we can hardly avoid preferring some things above others, and this makes it hard to imagine not doing so. That God created all things for His pleasure, and that they continue to exist because they please Him, is formidable doctrine indeed, as far as possible both from the "anthropocentric" utilitarianism that some environmentlist critics claim to find in the Bible and from the grouchy spirituality of many Christians...

Where is our comfort but in the free, uninvolved, finally mysterious beauty and grace of this world that we did not make, that has no price? Where is our sanity but there? Where is our pleasure but in working and resting kindly in the presence of this world?

Picture: Crab Spider near the top of Mt. Spokane

Wendell Berry - How I Would Fix the Economy

I'm reading through Wendell Berry's latest book, What Matters Most: Economics for a Renewed Commonwealth, and I find his commentary on our current economic woes as insightful as any I've read. He laments that the economy has become disconnected from the land and is so out of whack that it's hard to see how it can be fixed.

There is no good reason, economic or otherwise, to wish for the "recovery" and continuation of the economy we have had. There is no reason, really, to expect it to recover and continue, for it has depended too much on fantasy. An economy cannot "grow" forever on limited resources. Energy and food cannot stay cheap forever. We cannot continue forever as a tax-dependent people who do not wish to pay taxes. Delusion and the future cannot serve forever as collateral. An untrustworthy economy dependent on trust cannot beguile the people's trust forever. The old props have been kicked away. The days when we could be safely crazy are over. Our airborne economy has turned into a deadfall, and we have got to jack it down. The problem is that all of us are under it, and so we have got to jack it down with the least possible suffering to our land and people. I don't know how this is to be done, and I am inclined to doubt that anybody does. You can't very confidently jack something down if you didn't know what you were doing when you jacked it up.

He goes on to offer some suggestions for ways to re-anchor the economy in land and natural resources.

...Help young farmers to own farms...We should set appropriate and reasonable acreage limits, according to region, for family-scale farms and ranches. Taxes should be heavy on holdings above those limits...There should be inheritance taxes on large holdings; none on small holdings.

...Phase out biofuels as quickly as possible.

...Phase in perennial plants - for pasture, winter forage, and grain crops - to replace annual crops requiring annual soil disturbance or annual applications of "no-till" chemicals.

...High water quality standards (enforced) and a program to replace annual crops with perennials would tend strongly toward the elimination of animal factories. But let us be forthright on this issue. We should get rid of animal factories, those abominations, as quickly as we can. Get the farm animals, including hogs and chickens, back on grass. Put the animals where they belong, and their manure where it belongs.

...Animal production should be returned to the scale of localities and communities. Do away with subsidies, incentives, and legislation favorable to gigantism in dairy, meat, and egg production.

...Encourage the development of local food economies, which make more sense agriculturally and economically than our present overspecialized, too-concentrated, long-distance food economy.

...Study and teach sustainable forestry...Help and encourage small-scale forestry and owners of small woodlands.

In conclusion he says;

Would such measures increase significantly the number of people at work in the land economy? Of course they would. This would be an authentic version, for change, of "job creation." This work would help our economy, our people, and our country all at the same time.

Go here and here for previous posts on Wendell Berry and the economy.

Picture: Wheat ripe for harvest on Orchard Prairie

Wendell Berry: How to Eat Responsibly

This is a re-post from awhile back. One of my favorite quotes from Berry. I'm hoping by the end of the day today to have the manuscript for Year of Plenty, the book, submitted to the publisher. Then I get to spend the rest of the summer painting the house.

Many times, after I have finished a lecture on the decline of American farming and rural life, someone in the audience has asked, "What can city people do?"

"Eat responsibly," I have usually answered. Of course, I have tried to explain what I meant by that, but afterwards I have invariably felt that there was more to be said than I had been able to say. Now I would like to attempt a better explanation.

I begin with the proposition that eating is an agricultural act. Eating ends the annual drama of the food economy that begins with planting and birth. Most eaters, however, are no longer aware that this is true. They think of food as an agricultural product, perhaps, but they do not think of themselves as participants in agriculture. They think of themselves as "consumers." If they think beyond that, they recognize that they are passive consumers. They buy what they want-or what they have been persuaded to want-within the limits of wifery of the old household food economy. But one can be thus liberated only by entering a trap (unless one sees ignorance and helplessness as the signs of privilege, as many people apparently do). The trap is the ideal of industrialism: a walled city surrounded by valves that let merchandise in but no consciousness out. How does one escape this trap? Only voluntarily, the same way that one went in: by restoring one's consciousness of what is involved in eating; by reclaiming responsibility for one's own part in the food economy. One might begin with the illuminating principle of Sir Albert Howard's The Soil and Health, that we should understand "the whole problem of health in soil, plant, animal, and man as one great subject." Eaters, that is, must understand that eating takes place inescapably in the world, that it is inescapably an agricultural act, and that how we eat determines, to a considerable extent, how the world is used. This is a simple way of describing a relationship that is inexpressibly complex. To eat responsibly is to understand and enact, so far as one can, this complex relationship. What can one do? Here is a list, probably not definitive:

  1. Participate in food production to the extent that you can. If you have a yard or even just a porch box or a pot in a sunny window, grow something to eat in it. Make a little compost of your kitchen scraps and use it for fertilizer, Only by growing some food for yourself can you become acquainted with the beautiful energy cycle that revolves from soil to seed to flower to fruit to food to offal to decay, and around again. You will he fully responsible for any food that you grow for yourself, and you will know all about it. You will appreciate it fully, having known it all its life.
  2. Prepare your own food. This means reviving in your own mind and life the arts of kitchen and household. This should enable you to eat more cheaply, and it will give you a measure of "quality control'': you will have some reliable knowledge of what has been added to the food you eat.
  3. Learn the origins of the food you buy, and buy the food that is produced closest to your home. The idea that every locality should be, as much as possible, the source of its own food makes several kinds of sense. The locally produced food supply is the most secure, the freshest, and the easiest for local consumers to know about and to influence,
  4. Whenever possible, deal directly with a local farmer, gardener, or orchardist. All the reasons listed for the previous suggestion apply here. In addition, by such dealing you eliminate the whole pack of merchants, transporters, processors, packagers. and advertisers who thrive at the expense of both producers and consumers.
  5. Learn, in self-defense, as much as you can of the economy and technology of industrial food production. What is added to food that is not food, and what do you pay for these additions?
  6. Learn what is involved in the best farming and gardening.
  7. Learn as much as you can, by direct observation and experience if possible, of the life histories of the food species.

Wendell Berry from the book of essays, "What Are People For".

Local Food, Health and Year of Plenty on PBS Show "Health Matters"

Upriver Dam web

Picture: Upriver dam on the Spokane River taken last week.

This Thursday I'll be a guest on a TV show called "Health Matters". The once a month live call-in show is produced by Spokane's PBS affiliate, KSPS, with each show addressing a particular health issue. I will be one of four guests discussing the topic of healthy eating. I explained to the producer that I see issues of health and eating through the lens of local, seasonal food and she thought that sounded like a great perspective to have in the conversation. Here's how they describe the show's purpose;

We encourage the growing movement to improve the quality of life through better medical and health alternatives.

I wonder if the readers of this blog might be willing to chime in and offer some perspectives on the health benefits of local, seasonal eating. I'm going to pull together some of my thoughts and get up a post later in the week. How do you connect the dots between issues of health and food?

For a recent example of someone making the case you can go here.

Here's a Wendell Berry quote I posted in May that serves as a good starting place for me in thinking about food and health.

I believe that health is wholeness. For many years I have returned again and again to the work of the English agriculturist Sr Albert Howard who said, in The Soil and Health, that 'the whole problem of health in soil, plant, animal and man [is] one great subject.'

...I believe that the community - in the fullest sense; a place and all its creatures - is the smallest unit of health and that to speak of the health of an isolated individual is a contradiction in terms.

Wendell Berry: An Ode to Wildflowers

I'm not sure what it is about wildflowers that I find so exciting, but they sure have captured my imagination over the last year. I suppose it's mostly their effortless beauty. This reflection on a serendipitous encounter with bluebells by Wendell Berry captures some of my thoughts;

One early morning last spring, I came and found the woods floor strewn with bluebells. In the cool sunlight and the lacy shadows of the spring woods the blueness of those flowers, their elegant shape, their delicate fresh scent kept me standing and looking. I found a delight in them that I cannot describe and that I will never forget. Though I had been familiar for years with most of the spring woods flowers, I had never seen these and had not known they were here. Looking at them, I felt a strange loss and sorrow that I had never seen them before. But I was also exultant that I saw them now - that they were here.

For me, in the thought of them will always be the sense of the joyful surprise with which I found them - the sense that came suddenly to me then that the world is blessed beyond my understanding, more abundantly than I will ever know. What lives are still ahead of me here to be discovered and exulted in, tomorrow, or in twenty years? What wonder will be found here on the morning after my death? Though as a man I inherit great evils and the possibility of great loss and suffering, I know that my life is blessed and graced by the yearly flowering of the bluebells. How perfect they are! In their presence I am humble and joyful. If I were given all the learning and all the methods of my race I could not make one of them, or even imagine one. Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. It is the privilege and the labor of the apprentice of creation to come with his imagination into the unimaginable, and with his speech into the unspeakable.   

Art of the Commonplace

Year of Plenty is now taking applications for those interested in being an "apprentice of creation." There are unlimited openings. Hiking boots and allergy medicine are recommended.

Picture: Purple Aster wildflowers on Mt. Spokane.

Wendell Berry: A Cows Contentment Flavors the Steak

Berry's comments from the Art of the Commonplace, are helpful in describing the benefits of growing your own vegetables and knowing the origins of the meat we eat.

The pleasure of eating should be an extensive pleasure, not that of the mere gourmet. People who know the garden in which their vegetables have grown and known that the garden is healthy will remember the beauty of the growing plants, perhaps in the dewy first light of morning when gardens are at their best. Such a memory involves itself with the food and is one of the pleasures of eating. The knowledge of good health of the garden relieves and frees and comforts the eater.

The same goes for eating meat. The thought of the good pasture and of the calf contentedly grazing flavors the steak. Some, I know, will think this bloodthirsty or worse to eat a fellow creature you have known all its life. On the contrary, I think it means that you eat with understanding and with gratitude. A significant part of the pleasure of eating is in one's accurate consciousness of the lives and the world from which food comes.

I hear people getting into debates about whether organic vegetables are, from the perspective of chemistry, more nutritious. Others debate the financial advantage of growing your own vegetables. Some take a pragmatic view of the politics and say things like, "the corporate agriculture industry would like nothing better than to see us spend all of our free time in our gardens and not in political dissent." And of course we love to debate the mathematics of carbon footprints.

While these perspectives are all important and need to be debated and discussed, none are quite as compelling to me as the one Berry makes in the quote above. Instead of breaking things down to their component parts, which is what our scientific approaches do, Berry is putting the food we eat in context, using words like beauty, memory and contentment. He says that simply knowing the source and conditions of the land and animals that provide our food makes the food taste better (and I would add, in many cases worse.) I can't prove it with a scientific study but I know it to be true from my experience.