Slow Theology: Gardening, Faith & Justice

Slow Theology: Gardening, Faith & Justice

Growing our own food enables us to teach our kids the important theological lesson of slowing down. And it enables me to remind myself of this spiritual discipline which I seem to be forever forgetting.

I recently posted some reflection on Slow Church and “coffee theology”, the idea that beauty, rather than efficiency, is more of a kingdom value. And this is something that I really want to teach my girls as they grow up. In a world which values efficiency, fast everything and instant gratification, the 12-14 weeks to wait and watch our food grow are a gift. In the garden we teach our kids the importance of planning ahead, the truth about the variability of life and the seasons, the virtue of patience and slowing down… that beauty (and food) takes time. And this has lasting effects on the way we view the world and interact with it.

I think by slowing down in the garden we are able to engage more fully in issues of justice. By slowing down our food production we begin to engage more fully and even rectify some of the things that are broken in our food system. Unfortunately, the global food system is one of convenience, productivity and profit over worker’s rights and environmental impact.

Continue reading “Slow Theology: Gardening, Faith & Justice”

Dirt in the Blood: 5 Generations of Urban Farmers

Dirt in the Blood: 5 Generations of Urban Farmers

One of the things I remember most about growing up was helping Dad in the veggie patch. We used plant it out, harvest it, prune the citrus trees, tend the chooks! It was great as a kid to be out, learning about nature, and watching as your hard work produced tasty food that you could eat fresh from the garden!!

I am told that my Great-Grandfather was a Market Gardner in south Sydney and his Son, my Grandpa, had a garden which definitely resembled a market garden. It had rows meticulously planted, perfectly straight with string lines and multiple succession crops of peas and the biggest cauliflowers and cabbages I have ever seen in a backyard garden! My Grandpa had gardening passed on to him from his Father and he handed it on to my Dad. My Dad’s love of plants resulted in him studying Agriculture. He even became a commercial agronomist and plant breeder with Yates, all the while growing plenty of our own veggies at home.

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My Dad then passed this love of gardening to me and my sisters. All three of us loved to harvest the beans and broccoli and onions and carrots. We had plenty of fruit trees and passion fruit and I love to collect the eggs. It was a family affair when it was time to plant or harvest the crops in the backyard.

All three of us kids are now grown up with our own kids and we all have big veggie gardens in our backyards. Both of my sisters went on to study agriculture and one of my sisters has even become a Horticultural/Agricultural Scientist in Tasmania specializing in vegetables! You can only imagine what her garden is like!

And now we are all passing on this love of veggie gardening to our own kids. My kids love getting into the Urban Farm, even if is just to collect a few eggs (or catch a chook for fun), pull out a few weeds or get in and plant the next crop! And best of all, like my childhood, they know what raw food looks and tastes like and they know where their food comes from!

Its a multi-generational love of urban farming! We must have dirt in our blood!

– Jono

Dirt Theology: Gardening & Justice

Dirt Theology: Gardening & Justice

I recently wrote a post about how gardening connects me to my theology about creation, restoration, justice and the New Heavens & New Earth. And as I re-read what I published, I saw a gap which I want to address here.

In my previous post I wrote:

As I tend the garden and healthy crops grow and produce food, I am reminded of God’s provision and grace in my life, even now. But I am also called to look toward the time when God’s provision, love and grace will be experienced in abundance!

I realized that this short paragraph, while never intending it to be comprehensive, missed a vital part of my “dirt theology”. I cannot speak of God’s provision and grace to me without considering the call of Jesus to love my neighbour (Mark 12:31).

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As I consider the way God breathes life into the dirt (Genesis 2:7), I am reminded of how God provides and tends and cares for his created world. As Jesus would say, not even a sparrow falls without the Father knowing (Matthew 10:29). His grace and provision abounds in my life from the big things that I seek God’s guidance and wisdom for, to the simple things I take for granted, like the air I breathe and lungs which are healthy and work effectively.

But even at the gardening level, I notice the grace of God. God allows my plants to grow and produce a crop, as indeed he allows many plants in many gardens and paddocks around the world to do the same. None of these plants would grow without the unseen hand of God tending our crops. This is grace, mercy, provision.

As I consider this grace of God, I am left wondering of my duty, my responsibility, as an agent of God, an ambassador to His Kingdom, as one called to work for a glimpse of the World to Come, the New Heavens and New Earth. What must I do with the grace and provision God has shown me? And this stretches even to the level of my own garden which produces a crop only by the unseen hand of God at work.

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This is particularly confronting when I consider issues of justice, food insecurity, domestic & international poverty, famine and starvation. Even in my own neighbourhood there are people who struggle at times to have enough. And yet God has blessed me with food from the dirt in my own backyard.

And this is not even touching issues of a fully functioning body and brain, education and opportunities, and even an income which, by the world standard, places me in the richest few. This is the grace of God.

What is my responsibility as an agent of the Kingdom of God if it is not to share the abundance of God’s grace with those around me? My gifts, my abilities, my education, my opportunities, my career, my wealth, even my own vegetable garden, all these things and more are to be used to give generously of the love, grace, mercy and provision that God has shown me. All these things should be used to promote love, hope, mercy and justice in a world which (at times) can seem so devoid of these things.

At a simple level (related to the very dirt in my back yard) my responsibility in working for justice, love and hope looks like sharing the abundance of produce in my garden with my neighbour. It looks like cooking and eating together and giving generously of the produce that has been grown by the grace of God at work in my backyard. 

It looks like prayerfully considering the plight of those in our world who do not see justice, who do not experience love or mercy or hope. It looks like committing tirelessly to demonstrate in any way I can the love and compassion of God as I seek to work for justice in their lives and their communities.

God’s grace and provision will be experienced in abundance when Christ returns. And while I wait expectantly, experiencing a taste of what is come even now, I will work for justice, seeking to see others experience God’s love, grace, provision and compassion as he works through me.

– Jono

Paddock to Plate: Tips on Reducing Food Miles

Paddock to Plate: Tips on Reducing Food Miles

You go shopping, load up your basket or trolley with produce, but how far has that food travelled to get to your local supermarket and kitchen? In Australia, the typical shopping basket of food has travelled an estimated 70,000km – this is equivalent to travelling twice around the circumference of the Earth or travelling around Australia’s coastline three times!!

“Food Miles” is a term which was coined in Britain and is used to describe the distance food has travelled from paddock to plate, from production to consumption. A typical Australian shopping basket has such high food miles is due to Australia being a remote country from the rest of the world and many of our supermarkets stock food that is grown and imported from overseas. Hence, simply buying “Australian” will reduce your food miles.

The Ethical Consumer Guide says:

By purchasing an orange grown in Mildura rather than California you reduce food miles from 12,879km to 567km.

But is this enough? Is it OK for our food to continually travel 500 plus kilometers to reach my plate?

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That orange, that the Ethical Consumer Guide speaks of, is one purchased in Melbourne after being grown in Mildura. However, I live 300km from Melbourne and because my food from the local supermarket is warehoused in Melbourne, my orange would have travelled nearly 900km to get to me! And yet, I am less than 300km from Mildura where the orange is grown!! This is not OK!

The main issues with food that has high food miles are relatively obvious and people like CERES have outlined this in more detail. Basically, there are high costs in transportation, huge amounts of energy that ae required to transport and store food over large distances and therefore high carbon emissions which are created in transportation and storage, just to name a couple of issues.

Food Miles is one of the primary reasons why we grow our own food. When fresh food from the supermarket is harvested, stored, transported, stored again, sold, stored some more and finally cooked and eaten, it is no wonder the quality of the product is inferior to something which is harvested and immediately eaten. The vast majority of our family’s fruit and vegetables doesn’t travel “food miles” but “food metres”!! The result is tasty, fresh, organic local produce! We know what has happened to our food from the time it was sown to the time it is eaten, unlike the broccoli you buy in the Supermaket which was grown somewhere in Queensland, trucked to Melbourne, out to Donald and finally to our home.

So, here are 5 Tips on how you can reduce your food miles and start knowing where your food comes from.

1. Grow your own! Even if it is only a few tomatoes in summer or a couple of pots on the balcony, growing at least some of your own fruit and veggies drastically reduces your food miles. Not to mention, growing your own enables you to ensure that your food is organic, that the environment is not being damaged during production and that workers are not being treated unethically! And even if none of that concerns you, its just fun to grown and eat your own produce!

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2. Share Produce! If you’re growing your own food, find others who are also growing their own food and share produce with them. You will still know where your food comes from and how it was grown, and you get to eat local fresh produce that you couldn’t grown in your own space! Swap, trade, give away excess food and be treated to a variety of local garden produce with limited food miles!

3. Shop Local! Buy your food from local shops who sell local produce, farmers markets, farm gates and road side stalls. This is known as “one-degree of separation”. Buying with one degree of separation means you either know the grower or you have bought your food from someone who knows the grower. There is only one “middle man” or it may even be direct from the producer. This limits food miles and it allows you to become familiar with how the product was grown to ensure that its production meets you ethical and environmental standards.

Dubbo Farmers Market (NSW)

4. Eat Seasonally! One of the biggest reasons why food travells large distances in Australia is because people want to buy fresh food out of season. It might not be the season for tomatoes locally, but North Queensland can grow them and we want them!! The only problem is they have to travel 2000 plus kilometers to get to us!! Let alone if its been imported from overseas! If you eat seasonally for your area you can ensure that the produce was most probably grown somewhat locally. Combine this with buying from local farmers markets or farm gates and you can be sure its seasonal, local and fresh without the food miles.

5. Avoid Processed Foods! Processed foods often have the highest food miles because ingredients are sourced from all around Australia or even around the world to make it. It might be a small ingredient in the product but if it was imported from overseas the food miles for the end product are astronomical! Also processed foods keep better and therefore more easily transported. This means that they are more likely to have been transported large distances since it is easy to do. Eat fresh produce, fresh nuts, fresh meat and avoid highly processed foods as much as possible… which is a much better way to eat and live anyway!

Jono

Working for Justice Through Gardening 

Working for Justice Through Gardening 

One major issue disadvantaged and poor communities face around Australia is food insecurity. Generally speaking, the cost of living (particularly in major cities) is high and then the idea of buying fresh, organic fruits and vegetables is just not an option. This is particularly the case for those who are unable to work, have a low income, are unemployed or under employed.

One thing communities are doing to address food insecurity and disadvantage is helping people to grow their own through community gardens and backyard gardening initiatives. Community gardens can provide small quantities of fresh produce, at low cost, to communities suffering from food insecurity. They also allow people to learn how to grow food themselves, and when combined with a community kitchen they can teach people how to cook and eat seasonal, fresh produce.

They can also provide safe spaces of welcome and acceptance for people who are marginalized, unemployed, retired or lonely in the community, as well as providing a therapeutic and relaxing time in the garden which has been linked to better mental, physical and emotional health. Here is how one group is seeking to address food insecurity in a particular community in Melbourne Australia.

Putting Down Roots (Australian Red Cross gardening pilot project)

The Putting Down Roots project is in Melbourne Australia. It helps newly arrived asylum seekers and mirgrants learn organic gardening in their own backyards or a local community garden. Here is how the Red Cross project describe themselves:

Putting Down Roots is a gardening and food security program for vulnerable migrants. Run in partnership with CERES and Cultivating Community, the Australian Red Cross provides opportunities for participants to develop their sustainable gardening knowledge. Putting Down Roots increases the social and emotional well-being of participants and provides the means for participants to have additional access to fresh and nutritious food.

Putting Down Roots, Melbourne AUS

Many asylum seekers in Australia not allowed to work which contributes to food insecurity as fresh produce becomes out of reach financially. Putting Down Roots seeks to tailor their project to individuals, helping them grow the types of food they want in the space they have. The local community too assist in donating plants and seeds for the project.  This project is designed to sustainably address food insecurity among asylum seekers in Melbourne but it also provides a therapy for a community often suffering from mental health issues, grief and loss after fleeing their homeland.

However, the project also addresses another issue of justice through this gardening program. In a political climate which seeks to demonise asylum seekers, lock them up in indefinite, off-shore detention and suggest that somehow asylum seekers, migrants and refugees will have a negative impact on Australia’s culture and economy, projects such as Putting Down Roots are working for truth and justice. Putting Down Roots demonstrates the benefits of having asylum seekers in your community and provides the local community with opportunities to meet, get to know and assist their newest neighbours. Through projects such as Putting Down Roots the Australian public are presented with a positive and alternative perspective of asylum seekers living in the community.

This project is working for justice through gardening as it demonstrates welcome, acceptance, social support and language support to the local community’s newest residents.

For more fantastic stories about communities gardens see Cultivating Community

Jono

Why We Grow Our Own Veggies

Why We Grow Our Own Veggies

My Urban Farm is located in the Wimmera-Mallee of Western Victoria in Australia. It is a typical small rural Australian town house block on which we have constructed 7 vegetable garden beds, a chook run for our 3 chooks and 6 fruit trees. All this in our endeavour to grow enough vegetables for our small family to be basically self sufficient.

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We grow veggies so that we know where our food comes from, so we know what has happened to it before it reaches our plates, so that our kids know where food comes from and how it is grown. We grow veggies so we are not reliant on large retailers who supply fruit and veggies out of season from thousands of kilometres away from farms that are interstate and even overseas.

We want to bring food production back to small scale, sustainable, community oriented, local, fresh organic produce. And we want to show that anyone with a backyard or small garden can do the same. Grow food not lawn and all that!

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We want to show people how to grow, preseve, store, cool and eat sustainably and locally. And we want to show that you can have fun doing it and build fantastic supportive communities around gardens and local food production.

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And as a local Baptist pastor I am interested in how local food production is connected to ethics, justice, the environment, community, theology (God) and ecclesiology (Church).

Jono