Most weeks Inen and Louisa Buerkle come pick up their crate of vegetables from Fern Creek Farm with Brandon, their dad. Inen says things like, “Fern Creek is the best place,” and when he pops a tomato or green bean or berry in his mouth, he’ll say something like, “This is beyond delicious!” I’ve noticed that the older he gets the more adjectives he adds. Inen, Louisa, and myriad other folks from Newberg and Dundee have become our neighbors in a rather profound way. We feed each other, as it were, and inspire each other to live well, to live out of our values.
Norman Wirzba, a theologian at Duke Divinity School, writes and talks about food and faith. In a recent interview he referred to food as God’s love made nutritious; God’s love made delicious. If God sustains the universe—and each one of us—and if all of life is in God and through God, then it seems Wirzba is identifying a simple and fundamental way that God loves us.
I suppose in this chapter of life my husband, Mark, and I would say that we live life locally by bearing witness to the simple profound love of God as experienced in food. Just now I’m sipping a glass of tomato juice, a byproduct of the San Marzano tomatoes I canned this morning. Sustained and loved by God sip by sip.
Speaking of eating, we live locally by eating twice a week with Lisby and Jon, our apprentices this year. Every Thursday after the morning harvest and after I make the Newberg Bakery run to pick up bread for CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) members with bread shares, we eat slabs of Bruce’s pizza made with his schiacciatta flat bread. On Tuesdays we eat dinner together, mostly from the garden, taking turns making the main dish and sides. This week Lisby added a peach and blueberry galette to her cucumber yogurt salad and homemade flat bread. I added an eggplant tomato Indian dish, served with blackened and then stewed green beans.
We eat twice a year with our Fern Creek CSA family. An ice cream social marks the beginning of the season where we celebrate the arrival of strawberries. Mark makes ice cream and our members bring various toppings, along with blankets, chairs, bowls, and spoons. At the end of the season we host a potluck, and after dinner families head out to the pumpkin patch to pick out their jack-o-lantern. Every week in between we all eat God’s love made nutritious, drawn out of Fern Creek soil.
Probably most of us would agree that eating ethically is neighborly in all sorts of ways (to neighbors both near and far away), even if we aren’t sure how to do it. We know something about fair trade and direct trade coffee and chocolate, and we may or may not know much about the controversies around the NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement), CAFOs (concentrated animal feeding operations), conventionally vs. organic farming issues, slaughterhouse conditions, and migrant worker issues. But what most of us know is that there are global issues of justice when it comes to food. They get complicated, run smack dab into issues of justice, politics, and bigger conversations like that over global warming—and they all deserve some good thought and attention.
But it is also good to be reminded that eating locally is also neighborly in all sorts of directions and one way to be less complicit in the complications of eating food from God knows where, raised and harvested in invisible (to us) ways.
Eating locally means we get to know and support the farmers and field and food workers who work and live among us, who set up tents at the farmers markets and roadside stands, and sell through CSAs like Fern Creek and Mustard Seed Farm. Eating locally might also mean we get to rub shoulders as we work side by side at one of the many community gardens speckled in our neighborhood, or find ways to share or receive the abundance from our own (or someone else’s) backyard garden.
At Fern Creek we (that is, anyone inclined to pay attention) get to bear witness to God’s love made tangible through food that comes up in spite of the mice that take out the early peas, raccoons that wreak havoc in the eggplant bed and consume 90 percent (no exaggeration there) of the table grapes, squirrels that eat down the lettuce, and deer that jump the deer fence and browse on beans. If I can get my head around it, I can manage to consider that all this food is God’s love for them as well, even if we haven’t yet worked out a good way to share it.
I don’t mean to suggest that food is easy to grow—it requires a lot of work and intelligence on the part of farmers—but I choose to believe that food grows predictably and abundantly because God’s sustaining grace infuses the process. The Market, where members come pick up their crates every week, is abundant this time of year, so abundant that we have to find creative ways to share God’s tangible love. Besides our preserving frenzy, Lisby and Jon and some of our members have taken the opportunity to preserve tomatoes and beans and to make pickles, relish, and pesto to eat throughout the year. Friendsview folks have been served up Fern Creek beans and squash, and parents, children, and friends have received bags of produce leftover after Market day.
How do I live out love locally and globally? One way, and perhaps the most fundamental, is by bearing witness to God’s sustaining grace and love evident in food, and by inviting others to eat mindfully, considering how we can share the tangible love of God to neighbors both near and far with our food choices.
Lisa McMinn—her newest book, To The Table: A Spirituality of Food, Farming, and Community (Brazos Press), is due out in January.