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Earth Day on the Farm

by Fr. John Rausch

          When Jule Morrow, a farmer in western North Carolina, saw his tobacco revenue shrink by 73% in three years, he turned to producing vegetables for the Asheville market.  His tailgate marketing offered fresh locally grown produce like potatoes, tomatoes, onions, cabbages and salad greens with no pesticides or herbicides. Yet, the uncertainty of selling from the back end of his pickup truck sometimes forced him to discard nearly 60% of his unsold vegetables.             

               Fortunately during that first year a local Church of Christ asked him to form a partnership with its congregation, known as Community Supported Agriculture.  CSA represents an agreement between a farmer and a group of consumers that ensures high quality produce for consumers and a steady market for the farmer.  Jule collected $80 from 28 CSA members in late April then supplied each with a box of fresh organic produce every week for eight weeks.  The 13 to 18 pound box changed its vegetables during the growing season, but consistently represented a value between $21 to $24 for the weekly ten-dollar box.  In June the members could sign up again with an additional $80 for a second 8-week period.

            The CSA program benefits farmers because they receive revenue up front and minimize some risks of farming.  Consumers get safe and healthy produce plus realize a connection to the land and food production.  Some families even bring their children to the farm to roam around on pickup day. CSA farms are bucking the current trend in agriculture by reemphasizing traditional values in food production.  Local farms knit communities together, care for the environment and practice sustainable methods.  

            Nationally, food production relies increasingly on an industrial structure that encourages vertical integration.  One large firm outside the local community will own and control production, the processing and marketing of the food product.  A livestock firm, for example, would own the hogs or chickens supply the feed, slaughter the animals and market the meat.  The farmer becomes a contractual employee of this industrial agriculture corporation.  

            The National Catholic Rural Life Conference, a voice for Catholic social teachings concerning farm issues, creation and community, last year initiated a green ribbon campaign to raise awareness about the direction of agriculture.  Recognizing the loss of 300,000 family farms since 1979, the NCRLC encourages prayer for farmers and education for the public.  The choice in agriculture pits a sustainable food system that factors in the environment and future generations against an industrial food system that overproduces for export and focuses only on profit.

             The effects of the current trend of industrial food production touch both rural and urban America.  Rural America suffers pollution of air and water from large-scale factory farms that use open-air cesspool lagoons for animal waste.  Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) rushed into crop production to resist insect pests and weeds lack extensive testing and contain the potential for causing allergic reactions, genetic pollution and ecological concerns.  About 70% of processed foods in supermarkets now contain ingredients derived from transgenic soybeans, corn and other plants.  Also, as farmers leave the land in search of urban jobs, small businesses fail in surrounding towns and rural resources diminish.  

            A new paradigm in agriculture begs priorities such as safe and healthy food, stabilized rural economies, environmental respect and sustainable methods.  Consumers will influence this direction by connecting more directly with food production through CSAs and farmers’ markets.  For Jule Morrow and other family farmers who reflect this new paradigm: "Every day is Earth Day on the farm." 

  Fr. John Rausch, a Glenmary priest, teaches at the Appalachian Ministries Educational Resource Center, Berea, Ky.   His column appears monthly in many Catholic journals and in ours courtesy of the Friends of the Good News.  Join the Friends of the Good News and help spread the Gospel.
Read other articles of Spiritual Enlightenment in the January 2001 edition of The Charismatics or return to the Main Menu by clicking on the blue.