A Noble Vocation: Integrating Faith, Food and the Environment

In case you missed it, organizers of Faith, Food & the Environment held a national conference in St. Paul, Minn., on March 21-23.

The conference — “A Noble Vocation: Integrating Faith, Food and the Environment” — addressed pressing challenges facing modern agriculture from a unique perspective: How can our religious beliefs guide us in the ethical production of nutritious foods while caring for the environment and upholding the dignity of farmers and workers?

The conference organizers and presenters put forth their conviction that faith is essential to agriculture, simply because food is essential for our daily lives. Anything less than nutritious food – available for all – is an indignity to human life. Presenters also made clear that care for our common home, the Earth, is equally essential to sustainable food production.

The touchstone of the conference was the 2016 publication, “The Vocation of the Agriculture Leader.” The impetus now is to further explore and seek to apply the principles that integrate faith, food and the environment in the noble vocation of agriculture.

The Catholic Rural Life website has posted videos and presentations of some of the sessions. This Faith, Food and the Environment website will add more detailed proceedings of the conference. This will include expanding on “next steps” as suggested by participants at the end of the conference. (See more below)

Presentations currently available online (please click)

At this time, only a handful of presentations are available online. The opening address by Archbishop Bernard Hebda, Catholic Archdiocese of Minneapolis and St. Paul, lays out the purpose of the March 2018 conference. Most notably, he makes clear why farming is a “noble vocation”:

“All of our food, indeed all that nourishes us, comes first from our heavenly Father, through the gift of the earth and the work of human hands. On this fundamental point we cannot be mistaken: every good gift, including our daily sustenance, is from the Father above (James 1:16-17).

“Farmers, therefore, hold a crucial place in the common family of man and a unique role in the fulfillment of God’s plan. For through their determined labor, those who work in agriculture cooperate with divine providence and make manifest God’s care for each one of his children. Their work is not merely an effort to meet a basic human necessity.”

Another highlight of the conference was the address by Dr. Frederick Kirschenmann, a Distinguished Fellow at the Leopold Center. He spoke on “Agriculture and Environmental Challenges: Implications for Leaders.” (Our next posting will provide a written list of the writers and references he made throughout his presentation)

Other videos available online at the CRL website are:

“Task of the Pastoral Leader” (three presenters, shown separately in roughly 15-minute videos)

“An Indigenous Perspective” (three presenters, shown together in a 54-minute video)

“Conference Summary and Shared Discussion with Participants” (71-minute recording — mostly audio due to a stationary camera)

This final session of the conference was opened to all attendees. They expressed with passion the challenges they see and the next steps that need to be taken. Key Take-Away: Farming is more than a business or economic calculation. It is a noble vocation that not only produces our daily foods, but nourishes the cultural health of our country, stewards the natural environment, and comes as close as everyone to the presence of the Creator.

Main issues that resonated with conference participants

  • Food is a basic human right: How food is made available goes beyond commodity production and market distribution.
  • We need a greater depth of connections and relationships: With producers and consumers; with Creation; and with God in how food is produced and shared.
  • Economic pressures facing family farmers: How to survive in a system of intensive, consolidated production.
  • Improving consumer awareness in food choices: Showing how the foods we eat have an impact on farmers, laborers and the environment.
  • Indigenous people as “original producers”: Respecting their cultural practices and traditional wisdoms.
  • Social changes in rural areas: Population movement away from farms; the aging of farmers.

Critical challenges faced by farmers and rural communities

  • Public support for the social needs of farmers and rural families: Health care costs, quality education, internet access, mental health, and other public services most Americans take for granted.
  • Wealth distribution: Many farm operations operating on slim margins while agribusiness conglomerates keep growing.
  • Challenging the repeated claim about the “low cost” of food paid by the American public: Need to factor in food quality, environmental costs, and availability to low-income families.
  • Next generation of farmers and ranchers: Confronting the high costs of entering farming; easing economic and social hardships to make farming more appealing to young people.
  • Connecting to consumers: Informing and relating to consumers in a way that “tells the story” of farming beyond food labels and advertising.
  • Understanding that these challenges faced by farmers require an evaluation of modern cultural values: Have our hopes in a good life become harder to realize?
  • Despair: When farmers and rural communities feel abandoned by the larger society, what must we as concerned citizens and people of faith do?

Next Steps: What are we inspired to do?

Both as individuals in their communities and as part of larger advocacy groups, participants at the conference shared initial inspirations for further action:

  • To inform and to educate: our family, friends, fellow church members, neighbors and community groups.
  • To create connections between eaters and producers: through farmers markets and local food systems; encourage agri-tourism and school outings to farms; more local foods in grocery stores.
  • To work with local authorities: protect local farmland; establish local food systems.
  • To create a Church-based agriculture (along the lines of Catholic schools, hospitals).

In short, through the work of human hands, let us once again renew the face of the earth.