The Local Food Eater

by Jeanette Sivilay

Why local food?  Why should a nation, or a community, produce its own food when the economics of comparative advantage allow you to purchase food from other places more cheaply and with greater variety?

Michael Pollan is a New York Times contributing writer and well-known author of several best selling books on the topic of food culture, including The Omnivore’s Dilemma.  He begins his defense of local food with several intangible benefits – the security of knowing your community can feed itself, the beauty of an agricultural landscape, the outlook and type of knowledge that farmers bring to a community, the satisfaction of buying from a farmer you know instead of the grocery store, the locally inflected flavour of raw-milk cheese or honey (2006).  Besides this, in an economy that is working to transform the counterculture organic movement into an industrial machine, local food is able to create a whole new economy as well as a new agriculture.  Local food can create new social and economic relationships, as well as new ecological ones (Pollan, 2006).

But just because food is local doesn’t mean it will be organic or sustainable (Pollan, 2006).  Indeed, the CMU Farm is not certified organic and has not yet considered engaging the certification process.  However, we do grow with organic and sustainable practices as indicated in our identity statement, and for the majority of the season we are on the land and our eaters pay us a visit twice a week.  Our members don’t have to depend on food labeling to know how their vegetables are grown, they can simply walk on to the farm and find out.  The accountability of local food, in contrast to the regulation of organic food, ensures farmers are held responsible wherever they go.

Local agriculture is also sustainable because it is much less likely to rely on monocultures.  To meet the demands of the local market, farmers often grow a wide variety of crops instead of specializing to meet demands of the global market.  This alone will create a more sustainable agriculture, for a diversified farm will produce much of its own fertility and pest control (Pollan, 2006).

Much of the appeal of the industrial food system is in its convenience.  In a world where people seem to be busier and more connected than ever, this food system allows us to delegate our food preparation and preservation to others in exchange for money.  A successful local food economy will create not only a new type of food producer, but a new type of eater as well (Pollan, 2006).  This local food eater sees finding, preparing, and preserving food as a pleasure in life rather than a chore. This eater has chosen to remember the stories of their food and the places from which it comes instead of giving in to an industrial food chain and promoting a kind of ecological amnesia.  The local food eater puts a significant effort into sourcing food from favourite local producers, and is well acquainted with their kitchen.  The effort required is not to be diminished – you won’t find anything microwaveable at the farmers market, and there will be nothing in your CSA box besides what can be grown in your area in each respective season (Pollan, 2006)

Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) provides a unique way of engaging in the local food system.  Elizabeth Henderson and Robyn Van En were CSA Farmers themselves, and for over a decade were involved in spreading the word about CSA throughout the United States and Canada.  In their book, Sharing the Harvest, they note that CSA is the only model of farming in which this risk-sharing is explicit, an important component in an economy where farmers are alone in shouldering the risks of an increasingly ruthless global market (2007).  Behind CSA is the acknowledgement that true agriculture cannot survive in an economy dominated by the market where prices radically fluctuate, the cost of land increases exponentially, and natural resources are exploited (Cone & Myhre, 2000).  In CSA risk sharing when there is a poor harvest everyone receives less, not only the farmers.  Alternatively, when there is a good harvest, the bounty is shared among farmers and members alike (Cone & Myhre, 2000).

In the CSA model, members purchase shares before the growing season and receive a basket of vegetables each week for as long as the season allows, providing the farmer with financial resources necessary to purchase what is needed (Brehm & Eisenhauer, 2008).  Vegetables are generally the core, but other items are sometimes included in weekly baskets, such as eggs, honey, preserves, and sometimes items provided by other producers.  All CSAs work a bit differently.  Some have different goals or values; and level of member participation in daily labour also varies (Cone & Myhre, 2000).  At the CMU Farm CSA we have placed emphasis on following ecological cycles, education, seed saving, planting only open pollinated heirloom varieties of vegetables, low fossil fuel consumption, and using green manures to enrich and amend our soils.

The history of the CSA movement began in Japan in the 1960 when women were concerned about the loss of farmland and rising levels of imported food (Brehm & Eisenhauer, 2008). A study published by the Society for Applied Anthropology showed that women have remained the driving force behind this movement ever since (Cone & Myhre, 2000).  CSA’s have the potential to “re-embed” people in a time and place through linking them to a specific piece of land and giving them an awareness of the seasons.  Households where the female was a part- or full- time householder were significantly more involved in farm events.  It seemed that when women have more time, they are often inclined to combat the dilemmas of modernity by re-embedding themselves and their families within local communities (Cone & Myhre, 2000).

The world of CSA includes heady ideals and hard physical labour.  It’s a world where people from different backgrounds and perspectives struggle to learn how to do practical work together to create new food systems based on similar values such as cooperation and justice, intimate relationships with food and the land used to produce it, and a proper humility and perspective of the place of humans in the scheme of nature (Henderson & Van En). A study published by the Southern Rural Sociological Association found various community and ecological benefits to CSA including that of civic renewal, increased collaboration at the community level, improved access to healthy foods, and the preservation of farmland through sustainable agriculture (Brehm & Eisenhauer, 2008).

CSA requires change: change to how we eat, how we think about food, how we pay for food, how we manage a farm, and how farms connect with one another (Henderson & Van En, 2007).  Both studies I’ve referenced were conducted to examine CSA members motivations for participation.  In reviewing them it was obvious that many find it challenging to receive a box of vegetables each week that they did not select themselves (Cone & Myhre, 2000).  One farmer interviewed who was working on a CSA in the United States called it “un-American” for people to participate in something so regimented.  The same farmer even admitted to wondering if they would be a shareholder themselves had they not been growing the vegetables.  A CSA member interviewed said it was important to give the concept a two season try, as it does require significant adaptation (Cone & Myhre, 2000).  The most frequent reasons given by members for belonging to a CSA were concern for the environment and land stewardship, desire for fresh, organic food, and support for local farmers and local food sources (Cone & Myhre, 2000; Brehm & Eisenhauer, 2008).

As I read over these studies I found myself sympathizing with the farmer referenced.  Could I be a CSA member?  Would I have the patience to discover how to make Swiss chard taste good after an eight hour day of work?  As a farmer if I am faced with something I don’t want to cook with one week, I’m free to leave it in the field for someone else to enjoy.  The sharers of the CMU Farm CSA have become, or are becoming, the type of eaters Pollan writes about – local food eaters with all the skills and lifestyle changes necessary to become re-embedded in a place, a community; to actively remember the history and story of where their food comes from.

Robin Van En passed away at the age of 49 but was passionate about providing resources and education for CSA.  She implored CSA members and farmers to teach others what they had learned about CSA (Henderson & Van En, 2007):

…[we] may not become millionaires, but we will create solid local institutions and social capital, which give us strength for the future we cannot even imagine today. Like the Mondragon cooperatives in Spain, we are building the road as we travel along it together. (p. 49)




Henderson, E., & Van En, R. (2007). Sharing the harvest: A citizen’s guide to community supported agriculture. Vermont, USA: Chelsea Green Publishing Company.

Pollan, M. (2006). The omnivore’s dilemma:  A natural history of four meals. New York, NY: Penguin Group.

Cone, C. A., & Myhre, A. (2000).  Community-supported agriculture: A sustainable alternative to industrial agriculture? Human Organization, 59(2), 187-197.

Brehm, J. & Eisenhauer, B. (2008). Motivations for participating in community supported agriculture and their relationship with community attachment and social capital.  Southern rural sociology, 23(1), 94-115.

The Ephemeral Nature of Choice

by Kisti Thomas

Bruce Springsteen complains that there are “57 channels and nothing on”. Pink Floyd comments that there are “13 channels of shit on the T.V. to choose from”. Bender, the robot in the T.V. show Futurama laments that “ah beer, so many choices, and it makes so little difference.”[1] Do an abundance of different choices make us happier? Does 13, 57, or more varieties of the same product or service enrich our lives as much as we are often led to believe? If Pink Floyd, Bender the robot and William Cavanaugh (the American theologian) walked into a bar, they would at least agree on one thing! Cavanaugh sees numerous varieties of the same good or service as a product of globalization, and argues that the creation of a diversity of products and services is a response to the uniformity enforced by globalization and an endless search for novelty that depends on “increasingly high rates of turnover, planned obsolescence, and the creation of new desires to stimulate consumption and stave off the spectre of overproduction.”[2] Sociologist Roland Robertson argues that globalization maintains a balance between universality and particularity (the global and the local) and that each grow proportionally.[3] But is this just quantity at the expense of quality? Do these choices actually provide meaningful contributions to our lives? Cavanaugh argues that:

“difference in globalization is largely a surface difference. The sheer abundance of difference, the very variety and speed with which differences are produced, mandates that no difference be sufficiently different to constitute a true departure from the same. Any difference is on the surface and is ultimately dispensable. This applies not only to products but to traditions, cultures, religions, and self-identities of all kinds.”[4]

The ephemeral difference and variation between products and services in our globalized time creates a culture where “everything is available, but nothing matters… the surface appearance of diversity in fact masks a stifling homogeneity.”[5] Under a system of globalization, agriculture is an industry and food is a product, farmers are not artisans and making food is not a craft to be refined. Our supermarkets are filled with the same choices year round, but how different are these food choices, and for whom are these choices available? The commodification of agriculture and food delivery provides the consumer with an abundance of “unhealthy food that is only apparently cheap, for the long term costs of environmental degradation and dwindling supplies of fossil fuels will be paid by future generations.”[6] The short term costs occur in the far away, unseen places in poverty of third world countries, in our own backyards and in the farms that surround our cities.[7]

In contrast to industrial modes of agriculture and food systems, Community Shared Agriculture (CSA) provides an alternative model that communicates a more artistic vision of agriculture and our relationship with food. It re-establishes the farmer as a maker, an artisan whose edible craft relates and describes the regional culture and history. It re-establishes the consumer as a person whose food reflects their health, culture and connection to the land, and re-establishes the direct relationship between farmer and consumer that is lost in a globalized system. The CSA model creates a direct relationship between farmer and consumer, where the consumer invests and shares in the success of the farm. The purchase of a share at the beginning of the season provides the farmer with the capital needed to get the crops in the ground – seeds, soil/compost, equipment, and other start up costs. It also provides the farmer assurance of their income regardless of those variations over which they have no control – weather, international economy, consumer demand.[8] The sharer benefits in fresh, local, quality produce. CSA farms often grow a more diverse variety of foods or heirloom varieties that are rarely stocked in the supermarket. Sharers also benefit when the weather is good or a crop flourishes, participating in the bounty of a good season.

The CSA model of agriculture represents a range of values that are shared by its members. The shares sold by CSA farms are sold to local residents who most often live in neighbouring urban areas. Many CSA farms are making efforts to practice agriculture in ways that are more environmentally friendly, if they are not already certified organic. These local and organic attributes meet many urbanites’ increasing concerns about the origin and quality of their food, which are one of the most commonly stated reasons for CSA participation.[9][10][11] Many CSA sharers are surprised to find a sense of community through their participation on their farm. Each CSA farm operates differently, some require regular participation in farm work, others may require only a few days each season, and others require no labour. Regardless of whether or not a farm requires labour, many sharers note the value of their relationship with their farmers and other sharers. Knowing who grows their food, and seeing the place where it is grown makes the CSA a more meaningful experience than a trip to a supermarket.[12] Interestingly, sharers also report that as they experience this sense of community and relationship they are less likely to renew their membership based on the cost savings of CSA participation.[13] CSA farms have found that those farms that require their sharers to do a set number of hours of labour on the farm found that this experience correlated to the sharers commitment to the farm, and indicated the likeliness of their future participation and commitment to the CSA.[14] Higher farm participation was also correlated with an increased understanding of the implications of CSA and commitment to the ideals represented by CSA.[15] Members of CSA farms that require farm labour noted that their participation provided a sense of “spiritual fulfillment and civic responsibility,”[16] was “a gift to the family,”[17] and reminded them of the energy and work required to produce the food they eat.[18] The values of economic activism, community linkages, and sense of connection and responsibility towards the environment embedded in the CSA model are shared by many religious communities, and it is not uncommon that many of these communities have connections with local or CSA farms.

Church communities are creating “alternative economic spaces in which they resist the abstraction of globalization by face to face encounters between producers and consumers.”[19] Congregations that participate in this version of CSA (sometimes called Church Supported Agriculture) circumvent the common understanding that their role is limited to holding the government accountable and demanding that it intervenes in the market. Rather, the role of the congregation is re-imagined as one that creates spaces “in which they resist the abstraction of globalization by face-to-face encounters between producers and consumers.”[20] These face-to-face encounters personalize food and humanize the transaction by avoiding the middleman. In these personal encounters “the person is seen as another self and another Christ, the universal and the particular.”[21] Every week on the CMU Farm we meet our sharers and explain the food we have grown and crafted for them. It is a joy to explain what is in season this week and what foods we’ll be harvesting in the next few weeks, to explain the different varieties of the same plant we grow, or how to use or preserve the herbs. Some sharers hang around and walk through the gardens or get tours, others stay just to chat with farmers or other sharers, and others come just to pick up the weeks harvest. The weekly farm visit seems to inspire many sharers (and farmers alike), who comment on how quickly the plants have come up this week, or what a relief it is to leave the air conditioning at the end of the day. CSA sharers may feel that there is less choice than that available in the supermarket, but the choices and foods they take home are, we hope, higher in quality, value, and health than those grown under a globalized system. If there is any truth to the songs of Pink Floyd, Bruce Springsteen, and Futurama’s robot named Bender, maybe the quantity of choice is less important than the quality and significance of the product, interaction, and the environmental and social effects of our choices and the activities in which we participate.


Brehm, J. and Eisenhauer, B. “Motivations for Participating in Community Supported Agriculture and their Relationship with Community Attachment and Social Capital” in Southern Rural Sociology, 2008, 23(1), pp 94-115.

Cavanaugh, William. Being Consumed: Economics and Christian Desire. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2008. Chapter 3 “The Local and the Global”

Cone, C. and Myhre, A. “Community Supported Agriculture: A Sustainable Alternative to Industrial Agriculture?” in Human Organizations, 2000, 59(2). Pp 187-197.

Groening, Matt and Cohen, David. Futurama. Fox Broadcasting Company, Season 5 Episode 3.

Henderson, Elizabeth. Sharing the Harvest: A Citizens Guide to Community Supported Agriculture. White River, Vermont: Chelsea Green Publishing, 2011.

[1] Futurama, Season 5 Episode 3

[2] William Cavanaugh, Being Consumed: Economics and Christian Desire (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2008), 66.

[3] Ibid., 67.

[4] Ibid., 67.

[5] Ibid., 69.

[6] Cynthia Abbott Cone and Andrea Myhre, “Community Supported Agriculture: A Sustainable Alternative to Industrial Agriculture?” in Human Organizations (2000, 59(2)), 188.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid., 197.

[9] Joan Brehm and Brian Eisenhauer, “Motivations for Participating in Community Supported Agriculture and their Relationship with Community Attachment and Social Capital” in Southern Rural Sociology (2008, 23(1)), 98, 110.

[10] Cynthia Abbott Cone and Andrea Myhre, “Community Supported Agriculture: A Sustainable Alternative to Industrial Agriculture?” in Human Organizations (2000, 59(2)), 195-196.

[11] Elizabeth Henderson, Sharing the Harvest: A Citizens Guide to Community Supported Agriculture. (White River, Vermont: Chelsea Green Publishing, 2011), 144.

[12] Joan Brehm and Brian Eisenhauer, “Motivations for Participating in Community Supported Agriculture and their Relationship with Community Attachment and Social Capital” in Southern Rural Sociology (2008, 23(1)), 110.

[13] Ibid., 110, 113-114.

[14] Cynthia Abbott Cone and Andrea Myhre, “Community Supported Agriculture: A Sustainable Alternative to Industrial Agriculture?” in Human Organizations (2000, 59(2)), 196.

[15] Ibid.

[16] Ibid.

[17] Elizabeth Henderson, Sharing the Harvest: A Citizens Guide to Community Supported Agriculture. (White River, Vermont: Chelsea Green Publishing, 2011), 149.

[18] Ibid., 144.

[19] William Cavanaugh, Being Consumed: Economics and Christian Desire (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2008), 87.

[20] Ibid.

[21] Ibid.


On the Nature and Influence of Our Work

by Kisti Thomas

Google “how many days does it take to form a habit?”, and it seems that the responses range between twenty and thirty days. So if I were to wake up for thirty days and intentionally act as economic theory suggests – as a completely rational individual who will make all decisions in the best interests of my savings and investment accounts – this way of thinking would become intuitive, it would come naturally to me? What if I worked for ten, twenty, or forty five years in a world that daily practiced particular approaches to problems and solutions? That way of thinking would become normalized, it would only seem natural. Would I still be able to truly think outside of the box? The type of work we do, and the type of thinking we do at work influences us, not only as individuals but as communities and societies. The Bible describes how the lack of meaningful, valuable or useful work can degrade our lives, our communities, and our relationship with God. We become a people estranged from our land and God; we become sufferers of ecological amnesia by the way we have become habituated to living and thinking. These habits or ways of thinking may be interfering with our ability to find reconciliation with other people and the land. The agricultural practices and community centered model of the CMU Farm is one example of how we might find reconciliation with the land and our community, in addition to the gifts of imagination and love, which allow us to empathise with others and prioritize our relationships within our communities. It is therefore important to intentionally cultivate the types of relationships, and the type of thinking and work we are practicing daily. If we are going to make habits, let us be sure that they are the ones we want.

Does the quality and dignity of our work shape who we become, over time, and how does this impact our communities? Is there price paid for increased productivity when efficiency is facilitated through specialization? Wendell Berry, a Kentucky poet and farmer, begins with food and agriculture as an example, but draws parallels in many other industries or areas of the economy. A small scale farm that combines animals and a variety of crops requires much more personal familiarity, skill and knowledge of the diverse crops, animals and ecosystems than a large scale monoculture farm. Berry argues that when we hold productivity, efficiency and specialization as the highest virtues of our work, that workers are “demeaned; they have been denied the economic use of their minds; their work has become thoughtless and skill-less.”[1] Robert Heilbroner, an American economist and historian of economic thought writes that such “division of labor reduces the activity of labour to dismembered gestures.”[2] Eric Gill, a British artist/artisan describes how the industrial dismemberment of labour creates an important distinction between making and doing, and cultivates a “degradation of the mind” as a result of this shift from making to doing.[3]

The degradation of the minds of our community members and our fellow citizens is not without consequences. Firstly, there is a degradation of products and qualitative choice for the consumer.[4] The pairing of specialization and efficiency leads to a degradation of mind, as “when workers’ minds are degraded by loss of responsibility for what is being made, they cannot use judgement; they have no use for their critical faculties; they have no occasions for the exercise of workmanship, of workmanly (sic) pride.”[5]

Secondly, the industrial values of efficiency and specialization have created a depreciation of work, “as the price of work has gone up, the value of it has gone down”[6], to the point that people just do not want to do it anymore. Berry writes that we can now say that “without exaggeration that the present national ambition of the United States is unemployment.”[7] His explanation follows;

“People live for quitting time, for weekends, for vacations, and for retirement; moreover, this ambition seems to be classless, as true in the executive suites as on the assembly lines. One works not because the work in necessary, valuable, useful to a desirable end, or because one loves to do it, but only to be able to quit – a condition that in a saner time would regard as infernal, a condemnation.”[8]

Berry describes how “the dullness of work, the loss of responsibility for, or credit for, or knowledge of the thing made”[9] is the price of efficiency and specialization. In one collective breath of relief we ritually sigh TGIF (Thank God It’s Friday) on the fifth day of the week.

Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, in the dismemberment of our work and the degradation of our minds as workers we are denied what Eric Gill calls our highest calling – to give love to the work of our hands, to be an artist.[10] In an agrarian context, the small scale farmer has the pleasures of seeing the work from start to finish, being solely responsible for its making and receiving credit for the making of a quality product. Those of us who live in developed countries for the most part have been able to wash our hands of the jobs we have decided are below us, those that are dirty and involve physical labour. We pay someone else to do them so we can (thankfully) move on to higher pursuits.[11]

It is important to question the costs of specialization if we may be compromising our capacity for mindfulness and creativity in the process. The Bible gives examples of how our communities may be losing out on benefits to ourselves and our communities and our relationship with God for not sharing in good, meaningful work. When we grow estranged from our land do we lose a part of ourselves? In the Bible “land was given for the biblical writers, because they knew that land was an implicit part of their relationship with God.”[12] In Leviticus 18:25, 28, and 20:22 the land is described as a semi-autonomous moral agent, for when it becomes defiled God holds it accountable for its’ state.[13] The land is described as having the agency to act for God, even when humans have left behind the calling to act for God.[14] Leviticus portrays a covenant practiced between God, the land and the people.[15]

Jesus brought people and the land together in his ministry. In the same way that God scooped up some earth to create the first human, Jesus used the land and the earth in his work and ministry.[16] Jesus healed people through the “media of soil, water, saliva, bread, and fish.”[17] His ministry took place in the open air countryside of Galilee.[18] Christian rituals have the earth and land at their core; Christians are baptized in the waters of the earth, and eat the fruits of the land during the Eucharist. Our intimacy with the land is an implicit and explicit part of our relationship with God. When we wash our hands of the dirty work of the land and the physical labour of tending to the gardens of the earth we distance ourselves not just from the land and ourselves but also in our relationship with God.

Our proximity or distance from the land is an understated factor in how we relate value to our surroundings. Norman Wirzba, a philosophy and ecology professor at Duke Divinity School describes how many people suffer in a state of “ecological amnesia” due to the ways that we live in the world.[19] “Its most basic cause is the practical separation of people from the land”,[20] a separation that occurs in two forms: the physical (our physical location and proximity) and the existential (a loss of practical working relationships with others that teach us about our state of interdependency with other beings).[21] These physical and existential forms of ecological amnesia inform our awareness of, care for and the value we assign to the land, places and citizens we do not know. We value, protect and care much more for what we can see and understand. “Authentic reconciliation and community are not possible as long as groups of people view each other from a distance.”[22] In order to find reconciliation we must acknowledge our communities and bring ourselves back together. In this reunion we can hope to rediscover our value.

The connection drawn by Berry, Bahnson and Wirzba between efficiency and specialization and the degradation of mind captivated me. The evidence of their claim seems at once deeply distressing yet ubiquitous. Of course, people may dislike their jobs for many reasons, but it seems that many people today generally experience little satisfaction and happiness from their careers. Yet because we live in a culture obsessed with money, opulence and extravagance many of us work longer and harder than is strictly necessary in pursuit of more.

What concerns me most about this concept of the degradation of the minds of our community members and citizens is how this affects our ability to understand complex system structures, commonly found in social and ecological problems. How might a tendency towards simple or narrow mindedness affect our collective ability to rationally respond to these problems in a timely or faithful manner? Are the solutions we propose to the complex systemic or societal problems of our time symptomatic of the effects of a life of work that requires narrow, simpleminded thinking? Do our careers shape our way of thinking over time in a way that impedes our ability to understand and respond to complex social and ecological problems in a way that is timely and that actually solves our problems? Has the loss of our ability to see and understand the big picture of interconnected parts the reason why we have been so ineffectual at addressing our societal challenges?

While these questions may not have answers at this time, we can intentionally try to choose work that challenges us to be responsible for what we put out into the world, where we are required to use our best judgement and critical faculties, and where we might obtain a sense of workmanship or workwomanship and pride in the fruits of our work. While I may not have been able to so lucidly explain why I wanted to work on a farm when I first joined the CMU farmers collective last winter, it was to this effect. Choosing to work on an urban farm seems to not be a common choice for many young people today. Many young people who grew up on farms are leaving, not staying or returning. Upon hearing about my summer pursuit many of friends intuitively understood my reasons. However in this contemporary time of specialization and efficiency, consumer culture, and cultural addiction to money and power, this can be a confusing choice to some. Farm work is fulfilling in a way that many jobs are not. Farm work is meaningful, its fruits are essential to every person, regardless of their life circumstances. Its humble and unpretentious nature makes it feel honest and real. Our culture and media present so many lies and artifices to young people today, that when I find something that has a texture of caring, truth, and honesty, even love… It is too compelling to turn away. The intimacy between farmers and their land, and the healthy ratio of hands to land that Berry describes is only attainable in small scale agriculture such as that practiced at the CMU Farm. Our collective model of governance allows not only an intimacy with our land but also with all aspects of farm maintenance and work.

Small scale agriculture is one example of a response to the unfulfilling nature of work where we are not required to use our critical faculties or judgment, and the ecological amnesia that work and lifestyle habits cause so many suffer. Reconnecting with the way the Bible describes our connection to and relationship with the land, where our intimacy with the land is an implicit and explicit part of our relationship with God, into our daily lives is another step toward reconciliation with the land and others. I believe there is also hope in human imagination and creativity. J.K. Rowling advocated for the importance of imagination in her Harvard commencement speech, when she said that

imagination is not only the uniquely human capacity to envision that which is not, and therefore the fount of all invention and innovation. In its arguably most transformative and revelatory capacity, it is the power that enables us to empathise with humans whose experiences we have never shared.[23]

Furthermore, I believe that imagination is a power that will enable us to rebuild our world into one that is not dependent on fossil fuels or other ecologically and socially destructive behaviours.

In addition to imagination I would also like to highlight the importance of love. Davis references the famous injunction to love our neighbours, a passage whose meaning is not entirely evident from its common rendering.[24] She argues that a more accurate translation of Leviticus 19:18 would be that “you shall act lovingly to your neighbor, as [to] yourself.”[25] This interpretation places the emphasis on loving actions and practices rather than on an undemonstrated attitude.[26] Love is a central value to Christianity and Anabaptist Christians. “According to Menno Simons “love is the total content of Scripture”… The “sincere and unfeigned love of one’s neighbour” is the sign by which the church of Christ… is known.”[27] A love ethic “recognized by its fruits in daily practice is central to any Anabaptist ethics.”[28] Jim Rich, a Presbyterian pastor writes that:

We must fall into the agony of unconditional love as one does for a cherished friend who is dying in the prime of life – a love willing even to give up life if it would save the friend… All of us on earth can live well, though in a radically simplified manner, on the earth’s bounty. Sacrifice is not the issue. The issue is love. This is a spiritual matter.[29]

Our response ought to be a re-imagination of our work and our world in a way that cultivates not only our minds, bodies and relationships but ignites a love for our human, animal, and plant communities.

[1] Wendell Berry, Bringing it to the Table: On Farming and Food (Berkley, California: Counterpoint Press, 2009), 34-35.

[2] Ibid., 35.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Fred Bahnson and Norman Wirzba, Making Peace with the Land: God’s Call to Reconcile with the Creation (Westmont, Illinois: Intervarsity Press, 2012), 53.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Ellen Davis, Scripture, Culture and Agriculture: Agrarian Readings of the Bible (Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 2008), 100.

[14] Ibid.

[15] Ibid., 99.

[16] Ibid.

[17] Ibid.

[18] Ibid.

[19] Fred Bahnson and Norman Wirzba, Making Peace with the Land: God’s Call to Reconcile with the Creation (Westmont, Illinois: Intervarsity Press, 2012), 28.

[20] Ibid.

[21] Ibid., 28-33.

[22] Ibid., 78.

[23] Joanne Kathleen Rowling, “The Fringe Benefits of Failure and the Importance of Imagination”, The Harvard Gazette, June 5 2008 [Text of Speech article on-line]; available from; accessed 26 June 2013.

[24] Ellen Davis, Scripture, Culture and Agriculture: Agrarian Readings of the Bible (Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 2008), 86.

[25] Ibid.

[26] Ibid.

[27] Calvin Redekop, ed. Creation and the Environment: an Anabaptist Perspective on a Sustainable World (Baltimore, Maryland: Hopkins Fulfillment Service, 2000), 202.

[28] Ibid.

[29] Ibid.

25 Years of Faith and 3 Years in the Garden – What I’ve Learned from the Land

By Jeanette Sivilay – August 2013

Norman Wirzba, a theologian who writes a great deal about land and food, notes the large measure of curiosity, delight, and devotion required to farm well and the grounded knowledge required for each plot of land (2011) – not unlike the knowledge needed for the various plants we tend at the Farm.  Ellen Davis, an author who has written on agriculture in the Old Testament, points out that the Israelites grasped this vision well in the land given to them by God.  Canaan, the land set aside for them, is described in Deuteronomy as much more precarious than the fertile land we experience on the prairies of North America.  “A strip of land between two seas”, the Israelite land had water to the west, wilderness to the east, was full of mountains and valleys, and irrigated only by the heavens (Davis, 2009).  It was clear that they were no longer in Egypt where vegetable gardens like ours at CMU would flourish and could be tended with ease.  They existed in Canaan by the grace of God and their own wise practices, having only a small margin for ignorance, negligence, and error.  It was imperative that they become intimate with the land, learning to meet its needs and expectations, and then pass on this knowledge from generation to generation.  The fecundity of their land is narrated in Leviticus as the natural consequence of covenant faithfulness enacted by both Israel and God (Davis, 2009). 

The agrarian vision and the importance of knowledge of place is a common thread throughout God’s word, and it is not surprising considering the agrarian context in which many biblical authors were writing (Davis, 2009).  In the book of Genesis, the author displays the ultimate image of God as gardener within the very first chapters of the Bible.  Genesis 2:8-9 says “And the Lord God planted a garden in Eden, in the east; and there he put man whom he had formed.  Out of the ground the Lord God made to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food.”  In Genesis we begin to grasp that gardens are places where we intimately find our place in the world.  They teach us of our dependence on created forces of life over which we have little control.  In gardening we mete out one of humanities most fundamental tasks, the understanding of human “creatureliness”, as it exists with other creatures, and as it exists in relation to God (Wirzba, 2011).

Fred Bahnson, a farmer and graduate student at Duke Divinity School who writes with Norman Wirzba, points out that in Genesis we see God taking the first human (adam) from the soil (adamah), and instruct him to care for the garden, learning to serve and protect the ground (Bahnson & Wirzba, 2012). In instructing humans to “till and keep” the garden, humans are given our most fundamental identity and vocation, and best understand what it is to be made in the image of God (Wirzba, 2011).  

This instructive has been mirrored in my own life over the years as I’ve served at the Farm and have come to learn about the goodness of growing, and the joy of living at the pace of the garden.  I use the word ‘joy’ with some trepidation as we’re currently immersed in a week where summer plans are leaving us short on labour.  And while we take time for life away from the Farm, the plants – by God’s grace – keep growing, but so does the work.  And so at times the pace of the garden is frantic, and yet more often than not, there are harvest days and tending days where there is ample time for conversation, coffee, and a slow attention to the plants we are growing.  It is within this ebb and flow of the Farm that I find my “creatureliness”, where the careful structures I have built to fulfill the expectations I have – and that others have – for my life are put in the perspective of God’s creation and the created pace of this world.  The Farm begs me to let go – it implores that I rest gently in the wisdom of my Creator, where I am enough just as I am.  I know my life depends upon food and the land that provides it, I know the happiness I experience when I bask in creation that is maintained as God intended it, and I know the love I experience when I learn from the Farm how intensely the created world is cared for, and that within that care as a fellow creature, I too will be cared for like the lilies. My identity in the circle and ‘enough-ness’ becomes clearer the closer I work with God’s creation.

Going back to the knowledge of the land and the care of creation it is possible for us to begin to build a biblical land ethic and tangibly acknowledge the embodiment of Christ in the created world.  This realization requires acute reflection on our current land use practices. In my last article I addressed the disconnect in our culture between individuals, our food, and the land upon which our food is grown.  We no longer live close to the land, and so we no longer see what we are doing to it; we live in ecological blindness (Bahnson & Wirzba, 2012).  Between a third and a half of the Earth’s land surface has been transformed by human activity (Davis, 2011), and a 2008 report from the World Bank and Food and Agriculture Organization unequivocally acknowledged that industrial farming methods are detrimental to the earth’s ecosystems and are not capable of feeding a growing global population.  Agriculture also plays a decisively detrimental role in climate change, accounting for one third of all greenhouse gas emissions (Bahnson & Wirzba, 2012).  What if species depletion, climate change, and other ecological woes at their foundations represented an inability to acknowledge God’s embodiment in the land?  If there were coal under Mount Horeb, Mount Siani, or other place we associate with God’s presence, would we remove the mountaintop to access it (Bahnson & Wirzba, 2012)?  God the Creator is intensely invested in the created world. Psalm 65 speaks of God’s continued presence in the world.  Godattends to it, like a gardener, continually watering and feeding it, but also weeding and pruning it.  And God is always faithful, even if the garden does not produce fruit as anticipated (Wirzba, 2011). 

We cannot profess belief in the Creator while disregarding and damaging what the Creator has made; we must function as members of the land.  Caring for land properly requires also caring for the people on the land and the community surrounding the land. The ecosystems of creation – deemed as “good” by God – have been provided as models for how we ought to interact with the land (Bahnson & Wirzba, 2012).  In sustainable, regenerative agriculture – agriculture that respects limits (Wirzba, 2011), and recognizes the intangible value of land (Davis, 2009) – we are invited to “consider the lilies”.  In doing so, we are charged with looking to systems more adept than us at growing things when considering our own land ethic and management practices (Bahnson & Wirzba, 2012), which in the very least extends for many of us to the length of our property lines.  When we imitate our Creator and care for creation we understand better who God is and what God does.  In gardening well, we mirror to the world the ways in which God cares for and sustains us, and in tending the soil we find a means by which we can seek first the kingdom of God (Bahnson & Wirzba, 2012).

God is present in the land.  While I don’t walk on to the Farm each morning with the present realization that this is a place where God resides, I probably ought to, as farming is one of the most intensive ways humans interact with the land.  Built into the Farm’s identity statement is the realization that farming is a spiritual vocation for us, and as such we attempt to grow in such ways that are respectful of the land we manage, and the community we are a part of.  While we are not fully there yet, and probably won’t be until we can raise animals on the land, we try to mimic natural cycles in the process of feeding our community.  What we plant, how we tend, how we nourish, and how we harvest from our soil and our plants are deliberate decisions that reflect our beliefs.

Growing up I was raised to believe that the measuring stick for the health of my relationship with my Creator was the presence of the fruit of the spirit in my life.  These authors, and my time spent in the garden, have placed a challenge at my doorstep.  In looking again at the Old Testament this challenge has become a compelling one.  What if the health of our relationships with our Maker are reflected in the health of the land we have been given to “till and keep”?  How does this fit in with the shift in our culture over time?  Might we live in closer relationship with God if we once again move at a more ‘created’ pace, understand that how we are loved is reflected in the way creation is cared for, and strive to emulate these practices in our own lives?  These are some tough questions for me, the answers to which, I believe, can be found by meeting our Creator in the garden.


Bahnson, F. & Wirzba, N. (2012). Making peace with the land: God’s call to reconcile with creation.  Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

Davis, E. (2009).  Scripture, culture, and agriculture: An agrarian reading of the Bible.  New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.

Wirzba, N. (2011).  Food & faith: A theology of eating. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.

Farm update week 7

Hello folks!

The harvest is getting bigger!  It is now August and we are starting to turn up potatoes and see tomatoes turn red.  And the beans and zucchini are in abundance!  We are getting to the time of the year where we experience the “bounty” side of the CSA risk and bounty sharing arrangement.

In your share boxes this week:

eggplant (half shares only this week)
summer savoury
potatoes (just a few new potatoes this week because we can’t contain our excitement over them!)

I found a great blog post from the website “Food in Jars” which provides several interesting and inspiring ways to prepare and preserve zucchini.  You can follow the link here and then follow the links in the post to other recipes.

Zucchini Cheddar Corn Muffins

Yield: 12 muffins

Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 15 minutes
Total Time: 30 minutes


1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup course ground yellow cornmeal
4 tablespoons granulated sugar
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup buttermilk
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled
3 tablespoons canola oil
2 large eggs
1/2 cup shredded zucchini, squeezed and drained on paper towels
1/2 cup sweet corn kernels (you can use frozen corn)
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese

1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Fill a regular-size muffin pan with paper muffin cups or spray with cooking spray. Set aside.
2. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, cornmeal, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Set aside.
3. In a medium bowl, whisk the buttermilk, melted butter, canola oil, and eggs until well blended. Pour the liquid ingredients over the dry ingredients and mix with a rubber spatula until combined. The batter will be lumpy. Fold in the zucchini and cheddar cheese. Divide the batter evenly among the muffin cups.
4. Bake for 15 minutes, or until the tops are golden and a toothpick inserted into the center of the muffins comes out clean. Transfer the pan to a rack and cool for 5 minutes. Remove muffins from pan and serve.

Zucchini Bites

1 cup zucchini, grated
1 egg
1/4 cup cheese (Parmesan or cheddar work best)
1/4 cup bread crumbs (seasoned, if you’d like)
salt and pepper

1. Preheat oven to 400 and grease a mini muffin tin (I’m sure regular sized would work).
2. Grate zucchini and place in a dish towel to drain excess water (if you don’t the insides of the bites will remain soggy)
3. In a bowl, combine egg, onion, cheese, bread crumbs, zucchini, salt and pepper
4. Using a spoon, fill muffin cups to the top.  Bake for 15 – 18 minutes, until the top is browned and set

Cucumber Peanut Salad Recipe

3 medium cucumbers, partially peeled
1-2 green serrano chiles, stemmed and minced
1/2 cup / 2.5 ounces / 70 g peanuts, toasted
1/3 cup / 1.5 ounces / 45 g dried large-flake coconut, toasted
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon natural cane sugar
1 tablespoon, ghee, clarified butter, or sunflower oil
1/2 teaspoon black mustard seeds
1/4 teaspoon cumin seeds
scant 1/2 teaspoon fine grain sea salt
a handful cilantro, chopped

1. Halve the cucumbers lengthwise, scrape out the seeds, and chop into pieces roughly the size of pencil erasers. Just before you’re ready to serve, transfer to a mixing bowl and toss gently with chiles, peanuts, coconut, lemon juice, and sugar.
2. Over medium heat melt the ghee (clarified butter) in a small skillet. When hot stir in the mustard seeds.  They are going to sputter and spit a bit, and when this starts to happen, add the cumin for 15-30 seconds, just long enough to toast the spices. Cover with a lid if needed. Remove from heat, stir in the salt, and immediately stir this into the salad. Turn out onto a patter topped with the cilantro.

Serves 4.

Prep time: 10 min – Cook time: 3 min