Farmers

In Israel, Biblical Land-Use Laws Call for Creative Workarounds

Volunteers pack food packages to be distributed to needy Israelis. Photo via Michele Chabin/RNS.

On Oct. 3, when Israeli Jews sit down for their pre-Yom Kippur meal, prior to the Day of Atonement fast, many will be discussing where to buy their produce during this agricultural sabbatical year.

That’s because this Jewish New Year, 5775, is a sabbatical year, when, according to the Bible, the land of Israel is supposed to lie fallow. Called a “shmita” year in Hebrew, the sabbatical is intended to allow the poor to reap whatever may still be growing on the land “so that the poor of your people may eat,” Exodus 23:11.

The start of the sabbatical-year prohibitions, which include sowing, planting, pruning, reaping, harvesting and improving the land, coincided with the start of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year that began this year on Sept. 24. Produce planted before the shmita can be harvested this year.

But people have to eat, so a century ago rabbis found a way to bypass the law so no one goes hungry.

'A Sower Went Out to Sow'

“WE WANT FARMERS to rediscover the sacredness of farming,” says Rev. Daniel Premkumar. Premkumar’s respect for farmers and farming grew from his experience of serving for nearly 40 years as a Lutheran parish priest in Andhra Pradesh, the “rice bowl” of India. “We have forgotten that the people who grow our food play a critical role in the care of creation,” he says. “That is why we are creating a farmers’ Bible.”

We sat in his office at the Synod of the Church of South India, the largest Protestant church in the country, in Chennai. The church includes 10,000 Protestant congregations (Presbyterian, Congregational, Reformed, Anglican, and Methodist) across South India. Rev. Premkumar is now director of diaconal concerns for the church, and he is advancing the concept of agri-ministry, which views agriculture as a form of ministry and upholds the need for church ministry to directly address the concerns of farmers. He created the Agricultural Workers Fellowship (AWF) in 2011. A small AWF workshop where theologians and farmers came together to discuss agricultural perspectives on biblical passages led to the idea of a book offering a reading of the Bible from the farmers’ perspective. They hope this book and a farm workers’ devotional guide will be finished by 2014.

The initiative to spur the church to explicitly integrate faith and agriculture comes at a time when food and farming in India—and globally—is at a critical juncture. Will India follow the United States in relying on genetically modified crops, monoculture, inorganic and unsustainable farming practices, and the corporatization of agriculture? Or will it restore farming as a livelihood, emphasizing safe food and healthy soil and water?

Read the Full Article

​You've reached the end of our free magazine preview. For full digital access to Sojourners articles for as little as $2.95, please subscribe now. Your subscription allows us to pay authors fairly for their terrific work!
Subscribe Now!

Cultivating a Better America

Wendell Berry, photo by Ryan Rodrick Beiler

WENDELL BERRY was on stage being interviewed by Bill Moyers when the old Baptist minister (Moyers) asked the unchurched Christian (Berry) about his faith. “The world is maintained every day by the force that created it,” Berry intoned solemnly. In the Old Testament, he noted, “Elihu says to Job, if God gathers his breath, all creatures fail. All creatures live,” Berry emphasized, “by breathing God’s breath, breathing his spirit. It’s all holy—the whole shooting match.”

At 78, Wendell Berry shows no sign of failing, either in his breath or his spirit. But the Kentucky writer-activist-farmer is already enjoying a sort of immortality as the namesake of a degree program in ecological agrarianism at St. Catharine College. In April, that small Catholic institution in Springfield, Ky., hosted a conference titled “From Unsettling to Resettling: What Will It Take to Resettle America?” in honor of the 35th anniversary of Berry’s landmark book, The Unsettling of America. The interview with Moyers was part of the conference program.

Drastically oversimplified, the thesis of The Unsettling of America held that two types of Europeans came to America. Elsewhere, citing his teacher Wallace Stegner, Berry has called them the “boomers” and the “stickers.” The boomers were the unsettlers. They moved into the New World, cut down the trees, extracted the minerals, used up the land, and then moved on in search of new places to despoil. The stickers, however, settled into a place and made it their own. They cooperated with the land and the local resources to make a life and a livelihood that could be sustained over generations. Our problem, Berry contended, is that in America the boomers, backed by the power of money, have for too long set the agenda and won most of the fights.

Read the Full Article

​You've reached the end of our free magazine preview. For full digital access to Sojourners articles for as little as $2.95, please subscribe now. Your subscription allows us to pay authors fairly for their terrific work!
Subscribe Now!

Minister Ejected From Florida Supermarket for Support of Farmworker Justice

Photo via Interfaith Action of SW Florida
Photo via Interfaith Action of SW Florida

We have reached that point in the year when the images we are inundated with show off variations on a theme: the Norman Rockwell-esque holiday gathering. They are a testament to the ability of advertising to tug on our heartstrings as the large, joyful family sits down to a table lavishly set with the antique china, candles twinkling, and a feast spread as the Christmas meal in all its glory looms and the joy and generosity of the season is palpable.

Here in Florida, the grocery store chain Publix is as ubiquitous to holiday celebrations as pie. Publix has been a part of our Christmas celebrations for generations and yet this year impromptu runs to the family-owned grocer will simply not be an option for the Reverend Clay Thomas, or for those who stand with him. 

As it turns out, earlier this year Reverend Thomas was ejected and then banned from a Sarasota, Fla., Publix

His crime?

He supports the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW).

'As You Sow, So Shall You Reap'

Vegetables, Konstanttin / Shutterstock.com

THE FARM BILL has a profound impact on farming and nutrition. Three key things the multi-faceted bill provides are: a safety net for farmers, incentives for conservation practices, and food assistance for low-income families. Congress writes the farm bill every five to six years; the most recent Farm Bill, approved in 2008, expires Oct. 1.

At present, nearly 80 percent of the bill’s roughly $100 billion a year in spending goes to the food-assistance category, most notably to food stamps—the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, which now helps feed 46 million people in the U.S. Less than 10 percent of current Farm Bill funding supports water and soil conservation practices, such as no-till farming and preserving wetlands and grasslands.

In the past, a significant part of the bill has been commodity payments made under various programs to farmers of crops such as corn, wheat, rice, cotton, and soybeans (but not fruits or vegetables). As farmers are currently benefiting from high grain prices, while the government faces budget deficits, the next Farm Bill seems poised to recognize that the time has come to end commodity payments.

However, farmers, challenged by volatile swings in crop prices and by uncertain weather, still need a safety net. In lieu of commodity payments, the Senate version of the Farm Bill, passed in late June, moves toward subsidizing crop insurance, which covers farmers—including fruit and vegetable growers—against both poor yields and poor prices.

The Senate version of the bill includes cuts in conservation and food stamps—but not as severe as what the House has in mind. If present policies had continued, Farm Bill spending was projected to be nearly $1 trillion over the next decade. The Senate bill cuts approximately $23 billion from that 10-year total. In May, the House Agriculture Committee said it was aiming to cut approximately $33 billion.

Read the Full Article

​You've reached the end of our free magazine preview. For full digital access to Sojourners articles for as little as $2.95, please subscribe now. Your subscription allows us to pay authors fairly for their terrific work!
Subscribe Now!

Grace, Magic, and Hard Work

Beyond the typical objections that the Harry Potter books will turn children into Satan-worshipers and encourage them to disrespect authority, one mom complained that she found it inappropriate that at Hogwarts food magically appears on the table at mealtime. Her argument was that she wants her children to have a good work ethic and not to believe that anything in life is free. She wanted her girls to know that preparing meals is hard work and so would therefore be sheltering them from this absurd depiction of people getting something for nothing.

I think at the time I had to restrain myself from asking if she also banned her kids from hearing the story of the feeding on the 5,000 in Sunday school, but it was hard not to think about her objection a few months later as I read The Goblet of Fire and its subplot about house elves. As it revealed, food does not magically appear on the tables at Hogwarts, it is prepared by hardworking elves who in the wizarding world are generally kept as slaves.

We're Connected by What We Eat

110823-prayinTo the farmers who grow our food, the harvesters who pick it, the transporters who bring it to market, the grocers who present it, and the cooks who prepare it.

Here's the prayer we prayed at a nearby Publix grocery in the produce section on Friday:

A Prayer for Publix

Living God, you are the Creator of this beautiful and fertile world. You made sun, rain, soil, air, seed, and seasons. We praise you for the green of lettuce, the yellow of lemon, the orange of a tangerine, and especially for the bright red of a tomato. They are beautiful to our eyes, delicious to our taste buds, and nourishing to our bodies. We pray to the Lord, Lord, hear our prayer.

Pages

Subscribe