Conference reflects on the value of food

Published in the Anglican Journal newspaper | October 1, 2005 | Circulation: 161,413

A HANDFUL of earth and a sprinkle of water from farms, food banks and fisheries across southern Manitoba aren’t dements of your usual communion service.

But on August 21, participants of a Food Justice Camp shared their stories in a service at St. Matthew’s Anglican Church in Winnipeg where earth and water brought from five immersion sites reminded them of the struggles, fears and hopes of food providers–and above all, their love of the land.

From August 15 to 21, participants focused on the food system. Many spoke of being disconnected from their own food–not knowing the farmers, not understanding their issues, and choosing convenience over quality. The dirt in their hands reminded them of both the suffering and resurrection central to the Christian faith.

But seeds of change are being planted and tended in the church.

“Food is very central in our story as Christians,” said the Rev. Cathy Campbell, priest at St. Matthew’s and one of the Food Justice Camp organizers. “It is an expression of who we are. We are ‘Day Six’ creatures in God’s creation. We are reliant on the integrity of the environment, and yet we’re overreaching our use of the resources.”

Ms. Campbell, whose book Stations at the Banquet planted the first seeds for the week-long camp, added that the conference hoped ultimately to inspire action in the churches.

Rev. Diane Guilford, at St. Stephen’s Anglican Church in East Kildonan, Man., hopes her parish can spearhead a local food charter, outlining common values around food justice and improving support of farmers and those in need.

The need is indeed great. Almost 15 per cent of Canadians worry thev will not have enough to eat–what Statistics Canada calls “food insecurity.”

Meanwhile, large-scale, single-crop agriculture is the norm, and 60 corporations control roughly 80 per cent of the global food economy, according to the Canadian Foodgrains Bank, an interchurch agency; farmers’ debt load is increasing as machinery and inputs cost more, forcing 80 per cent of Canadian farmers to find income elsewhere.

At a food processing plant in Portage La Prairie, Man., visitors were struck by the factory management’s attitude towards food. They were forced to sign secrecy waivers, and the plant operator refused to answer questions about the ethics of food production.

“They talked about food as a product, as Something very distant from daily reality,” said Gwen McAllister, of St. Matthew’s Anglican Church. “It’s an attitude of doing business rather than making food. It’s food for a market rather than food for people. It seemed like a star example of our economic system.”

People of faith, added Ms. McAllister, are called to a higher ethic. “If we were to follow Jesus’ example, we have to care that people are fed and that they’re fed well. Jesus never sent the hungry crowds away to go buy something to eat. He always gave them something substantial.”

Others toured small-scale fisheries and farms. For instance, Wiens Farm, near Winnipeg, cultivates not only organic vegetables, but also close relationships with the eaters, who buy shares in the farm and receive weekly vegetable boxes. Known as “community supported agriculture,” it aims to reduce the distance from grower to eater.

Exploring a market in downtown Winnipeg, camp participant Ethel Ahenakew, of the Anglican Council of Indigenous Peoples, wonders if churches could start “congregation supported agriculture” for their food banks and community meals–with parishes connecting to a small local producer, buying their food and visiting the farm.

“I’m hoping that the few of us who came here can go back to our churches and convince them that it can happen,” she said, taking a bite of a fresh carrot from Wiens’ stall. “This is just Manitoba–what about other provinces?”

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