Reviewed by Rachel Stone
Flourish, Fall 2011
Year of Plenty
By Craig Goodwin
Sparkhouse Press, 2011, 224 pages
By now you’ve likely heard of more than one year-long experiment written up on a blog or in a book, or both—Julie & Julia, No Impact Man, and Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. When I received my copy of Craig Goodwin’s Year of Plenty (subtitled “One Suburban Family, Four Rules, and 365 Days of Homegrown Adventure in Pursuit of Christian Living”), I anticipated a Christian twist on what has now become something of a genre, if not a gimmick.
But Goodwin and his wife weren’t aware of any of these other experiments when they planned their own. Instead, the Goodwins’ project took shape in the wake of an argument over a “piece-of-crap”—Goodwin’s own words—present they’d purchased at a post-Christmas clearance sale. This last little purchase in 2007 prompted deep soul-searching and the realization that there seemed to be “no meaningful connection between the rhythms of faith and…[their] consumption.” They wanted to explore what drove them to mindless and meaningless consumption, and live differently.
So Craig and Nancy, and their two young daughters, embarked on a year-long period of consuming only what could be purchased locally—or from Thailand. This exception to the local rule grew from Nancy’s time living in that country and the desire to better understand the global effects of their consumption, for better or for (usually) worse. They rounded out the year with a visit to Thailand, putting a face to some of the people whose labor provided them with goods, and getting to know some of those most-exploited by a culture where everything’s for sale: young girls recently rescued from the sex industry. In between, they grew their own vegetables, raised some laying hens, sourced locally produced toilet paper, learned how to can pickles, and used only one car.
While there were moments of frustration during their experiment (“I’m sick of this local stuff,” shouted the seven-year-old “with gusto”), in the end the Goodwins—perhaps predictably—found more plenty than want in their new way of living. Craig wrote, “We’ve gone from shoppers who were primarily self-interested in our consumption, to an experience where we feel like partners in a community of consumption and provision.”
In fact, relationships—both within the Goodwin family and without—turn out to be the best part of consuming close to home and more simply. Turning off the TV to forage in the woods, spending time making ice cream at home, and butchering a chicken become ways not simply of treading more gently on creation, but of connecting meaningfully with loved ones.
And that meaningful connection extended beyond the community they knew personally. As the Goodwins discovered, “we can’t love our neighbor without also caring for the creation that sustains our neighbors with work and food and health.”
The Goodwins’ story, which continues on their blog www.yearofplenty.org, will likely appeal mostly to those people who are interested in pursuing alternatives to consumerism but who aren’t sure that doing so is feasible. Take heart: The Goodwins, like so many Americans, live in a master-planned suburban development—and they have a garden (with chickens!) anyway. There’s nothing radical in here, no fruit-scrap vinegar or turnip sandwiches—just an ordinary American family trying to follow Jesus by choosing a road less traveled, but increasingly, encouragingly, open to new journeyers.
Rachel Stone has written for Christianity Today, The Progressive Christian, catapult/*cino, and Creation Care magazine, and also for her local newspaper, The Suffolk Times. She blogs daily about food, family, faith, joyful justice (and The Bread of Life) from her home in Greenport, New York, where she lives with her husband, two sons, extended family, and assorted cats.