By Melanie L. Griffin
Published in the Summer 2009 issue of Flourish magazine
Starting a farm might not seem the obvious choice for any church, let alone one comprised of urban dwellers and suburbanites. What in the world were we thinking? After a recent pastor transition, Cedar Ridge chose to take a “time out,” and devoted a year to imagining a new vision for the church’s second 25 years. We examined our values and spent time dreaming about how we can best serve a hurting world. Our new vision is three-fold – we seek to grow spiritually, nurture healthy community, and humbly serve in a way that cherishes the earth and its inhabitants. We feel that farming part of our 63 acres will help us grow – quite literally – in each of these areas. “There’s nothing more humbling than being a farmer – you know you are not in charge,” advises author and Arkansas farmer Ragan Sutterfield.
What better way to grow together than by working the soil to produce wholesome, organic food for our neighbors in need? We hope that by farming sustainably, we can reduce our environmental footprint and provide healthy food for hungry people. Located on the outskirts of sprawling Washington, D.C., an organic farm surrounded by acres of unspoiled land – wildflower meadows, myriad bird species, and woodlands undisturbed but for a rustic prayer walk – will provide a peaceful retreat and an outdoor classroom to educate people about sustainability and the benefits of local food production.
Since we’ve embarked on our new agricultural adventure, I’ve been thrilled to find that we are not alone. Cedar Ridge is part of a growing movement of churches in America engaging in creation care through sustainable farming and gardening.
On a recent trip to Missouri, I met a young man whose church has discovered that community garden plots and weekly organic potlucks answer a deeply felt need for more authentic community in their suburban area. United Methodists in search of ways to bring together culturally diverse neighbors in Omaha have developed one of America’s most extensive urban community garden projects, cultivated by Latinos, African Americans, Korean immigrants and Burmese and Sudanese refugees.
Catholic Sister Amelia Stenger teaches more than 500 school children each year about the abundance of nature and the ecosystem of the large farm in western Kentucky where her Ursuline order honors the traditions of Saint Francis. In Idaho, more than 1200 low-income families receive bags of the fresh organic squash, eggplants, potatoes, and beans grown in the “Garden o’ Feedin” by the members of Boise Vineyard Christian Fellowship. The gardens are part of the church’s “Let’s Tend the Garden” initiative, which includes service outings, recycling programs, and sustainability seminars.
Maybe it’s not such a crazy idea for a church to start a farm! It seems that drab churchyards may soon be filled with kids picking orange pumpkins amidst bright sunflowers, while the musty smell of hymnals will be replaced by the scent of tomatoes hanging thick in the air.
This growing movement comes at a pivotal time. As a committed Christian who sees God’s beauty and goodness most strikingly in the natural world, I watched appalled over several decades as many Christians were persuaded by political rhetoric that environmental activism was somehow anti-human or anti-God.
Happily, my experiences in recent years as outreach director for a national environmental organization have given me great hope as conversations about consumerism, simplicity, and sustainability are sparked in communities of faith across America. What a breath of fresh air that so many churches are choosing to reject negativism and instead embrace care for the planet as a part of their spiritual journeys.
Americans have been doing a lot of dreaming about change lately, searching for hope in the midst of personal troubles and global crisis. People of faith can play an important role in finding solutions to the world’s plight. Just as the hard clay of Cedar Ridge Farm will be transformed into rich, productive soil, I am hopeful that the new church farm movement will transform hearts hardened by division and negativity and help bring neighbors together to care for the planet and for the neediest among us.
Melanie L. Griffin worked in the Sierra Club’s National Campaign Office from 1982 to 2008 and serves on the leadership team for the Cedar Ridge Community Church farm project. Her writing has appeared in Sierra magazine, Wild Earth Journal and The World & I magazine.