The Episcopal Church in Delaware “recognizes that improving the economic well-being and vitality of its family-farming communities within the State of Delaware could, in part, be driven by increasing the purchasing, serving, and promoting of local food grown in the Delmarva region…” which is why its delegates passed the Support Producers of Locally Grown Food resolution.
The intent of that resolution, and of this blog, is to strengthen communities that produce and consume local food with a focus on supporting “local food farmers who are committed to using sustainable agricultural practices.” These techniques rebuild soil health.
During coffee hour at my church recently, I was asked, “What does buying local have to do with creation care?” My answer was that, if the people growing the local food are good environmental stewards, then purchasing food from them helps to improve creation’s health. My response generated a polite nod and an “OK” just before they walked away. The opportunity I missed was to explain that we are all linked elements in a social matrix, which supports or degrades the web of life. Our buying habits have a direct effect on how quickly resources are used, replenished, or exhausted. Our actions as individual consumers matter and certainly collectively as the Episcopal Church, so why not support those who steward the land?
This explanation may still not be clear enough because it overlooks that most of us do not know what is required, or sacrificed, to grow and transport the massive amounts of food we consume.
Our food system, made possible by large commercial scale production, accounts for 19 to 33 percent of the global greenhouse gas emissions if we include transportation. These emissions drive climate change. This does not include the emissions associated with the food waste, which is another story.
The chemicals used in the growing process, including pesticides and herbicides, have been linked to cancers. This connection is no longer debated except by handsomely-compensated defense attorneys whose job it is to argue the contrary. Recently, damages have been awarded to plaintiffs. Just do an Internet search to learn about Lasso, RoundUp, and Dicamba. More of cases are pending.
States like Maryland, California, Hawaii, and Vermont have declared healthy soil a resource worth protecting. Healthy soil is a living medium, not just a stratum that anchors roots. Synthetic chemical fertilizers and pesticides throw its graceful, complex web of life out of balance if not causing it to collapse entirely. Commercial agriculture models calls for using expensive chemical inputs. This not only degrades soil quality over time, but erodes farmer profitability as their reliance on them grows.
Our collective and intentional purchasing of local food, from growers who also support protecting the life-giving sacred system we want to protect, will make a difference today, not just in the future.
Such a loving action will tangibly affirm our values and our commitment to change outcomes. It also has a liberating effect as we set a new course toward embracing more sustainable systems in our own operations.
Consider the impact church procurement could have if it shifted ten to 25 percent or more of its current food expenditure to local farmers who do not use harmful chemicals and who have collectively a smaller carbon-footprint? It would initiate a chain reaction. New income to the farmers would cycle through their rural communities. Their improved viability would build the base for expanding the supply of and access to healthier good food in underserved urban neighborhoods. By “buying local”, the church could directly improve local conditions economically, environmentally, and socially. The question is what are we willing to sacrifice, as Creation Care committed Episcopalians?
Let’s start the conversation now.
—Steven Jones, Province III of the Episcopal Church, Coordinator of Environmental Stewardship