Tag: sustainable agriculture

Beyond the church food closet

 Most churches participate in some kind of food closet, which is primarily a way to supply emergency food to those who need it.  But, what if everyone needed food?  What if the global food supply system collapses or goes into deep distress?  How do churches help then?

Chatham House, a UK-based thinktank, researches a wide-ranging variety of global issues.  One of the critical issues facing the world community is the food supply.  We are already seeing food delivery disruptions both in the US and in the developing world.  Rising energy costs have added to the cost of food here in the US, and a Chatham House report sees four possible global food supply scenarios:

  1. Just a Blip: what if the present high price of food proves to be a brief spike with a return to cheap food at some point soon?
  2. Food Inflation: what if food prices remain high for a decade or more?
  3. Into a New Era: what if today’s food system has reached its limits and must change?
  4. Food in Crisis: what if a major world food crisis develops?
What does this have to do with small churches, you ask.  First, food is pretty important and rising prices and declining availability will impact your members and your community.  Second, food supply issues are complex and involve the convergence of energy, environment, and economics.  Finally, churches can prepare for the worst-case of a global food supply disruption or the best-case temporary spike in prices by…
  1. Creating awareness of this and other global issues.
  2. Experimenting with local solutions to global problems, like growing a community garden.  I have enlisted the local 4-H coordinator to help with a community garden for Chatham in 2009.
  3. Learning about alternative approaches, such as the slow food, locavore, and other food-related movements.
  4. Exploring resources related to issues of food, hospitality, and care for those in need.  Bill McKibben’s book, Deep Economy, is an excellent resource for looking at food from a local economic standpoint.  
Challenges of the 21st century will demand that churches be prepared to deal with global problems on a local scale.  To do that, you’ll need more than a food closet.  

The future of small churches in a changing economy

I don’t mean to harp on this, but the current rise in oil prices impacts more than just where we take our next vacations. As James Howard Kunstler states in his article, Wake Up America, We’re Driving Toward Disaster:

As the world passes the all-time oil production high and watches as the price of a barrel of oil busts another record, as it did last week, these systems will run into trouble. Instability in one sector will bleed into another. Shocks to the oil markets will hurt trucking, which will slow commerce and food distribution, manufacturing and the tourist industry in a chain of cascading effects. Problems in finance will squeeze any enterprise that requires capital, including oil exploration and production, as well as government spending. These systems are all interrelated. They all face a crisis.

The rise in oil prices will have a ripple effect through the world economy, and small churches (big ones, too) will be affected. The good news is Kunstler sees a re-ordering of American life:

So what are intelligent responses to our predicament? First, we’ll have to dramatically reorganize the everyday activities of American life. We’ll have to grow our food closer to home, in a manner that will require more human attention. In fact, agriculture needs to return to the center of economic life. We’ll have to restore local economic networks — the very networks that the big-box stores systematically destroyed — made of fine-grained layers of wholesalers, middlemen and retailers.

We’ll also have to occupy the landscape differently, in traditional towns, villages and small cities. Our giant metroplexes are not going to make it, and the successful places will be ones that encourage local farming.

Kunstler sees us buying locally, growing more of our food locally, and moving in a small geographic area with $5/gallon gas than we did with $2/gallon gas. With this small, local revolution in the works, small churches that position themselves to minister to their community will be attractive as our country refocuses on small, local, sustainable experiences from food production to education to work to worship. Churches have the opportunity to lead this revolution. The question is “will we learn to think differently” and reimagine the church, not as a consumer experience, but as a community that serves.