Thursday, March 08, 2007

Small Farms,Small Farmers, and Angel Food

Tony and Marsha helping me celebrate my 52nd birthday.

Okay, Tony isn’t small. He’s way over 6 feet tall. And his farm isn’t exactly small, but in this day and age, it is considered a small family farm.

Several thoughts running through my mind crashed together today and it is time to post a blog. I’ve been thinking about the cow Tony is growing for me 5 miles from my home that will soon be slaughtered (photo soon….of the cow and not the slaughter….). Several weeks ago as I shopped at the local Aldi’s store (which, by the way, has decided not to close – leaving Walmart with some competition) a customer brought back a package of hamburger. I was an aisle away from this woman when I smelled the bad meat. I listened to the customer and the clerk talk about how they couldn’t understand how the meat looked so good yet smelled so putrid. I thought about interrupting with comments on the use of preservatives and additives…..but I remained silent and overwhelmed by the smell. I’m thankful for my “small” farmer feeding a cow and providing me with meat that has no additives and preservatives. And that it all is happening within a 10 mile radius of where I live and where I will cook the meat.

These last few months I’ve been hearing a lot about Angel Food Ministry. More and more churches in our area are becoming involved in bringing groceries from Georgia into our community. For $25 (cash or food stamps) people can order a medium size box of frozen and fresh food that would feed a family of 4 for a week or a single elderly person for a month. Included in this month’s box is chicken and stuffing bake dinner, hamburger steaks, lasagna dinner, breaded frying chicken, philly steak portions, popcorn chicken, hot dogs, bean soup, mac and cheese, steak cut fries, peas and carrots, turnip greens, sliced pears, pineapple chunks, peanut butter, waffles and a dessert. I am told the groceries sell for a retail value of up to $50.

I’ve been uneasy about this ministry. I priced similar items at our local Aldi’s store and Angel Tree does save you money. But, in a world where most of our food travels 1,800 to 2,000 miles to reach our tables, in a world where our local grocery stores cannot survive, and in a world where we are nutritionally bankrupt because of chemicals additives and highly processed food, I wonder about the wisdom of encouraging the use of the Angel Food ministry. The food comes from hundreds of miles outside our community, most of it is processed food, and it is competition for our local grocery stores (not that I don’t want Walmart to have competition!) I understand many people in our community need access to cheap, good food. But they don’t need access or encouragement to cheap processed, chemically laden foods, nor foods that discourage us from supporting local businesses or farmers. If we as a Christian community desire to meet the needs of those in our community who struggle, are there better ways, more holistic/Christian ways to meet those needs?

A place to start is Bread for the World. The focus for its current letter writing campaign is small farms. This year the US Congress will renew the farm bill for another 5 years. The current bill should be improved to provide better and broader support for U.S. farmers, strengthen communities in rural America, help hungry people in this country afford a sufficient and nutritious diet, and support the efforts of small-scale farmers in developing countries to sell their crops and feed their families—all things that the current farm bill falls short of doing. Our monthly Bread for the World group will write letters to our congressmen asking for their support in creating a bill that cares for small farmers like Tony and those who live with food insecurity in America and around the world.

I am concerned that the ministry to the food insecure through a warehouse 600 miles away could do harm. That it could put the local independent grocery store out of business. That it could keep us from developing local ways to acquire and share good, healthy affordable food. That it could discourage people from using or growing for local farmers markets. That we will be tempted to avoid the hard work of finding local, lasting ways to provide relief for those in our communities who struggle with food insecurity. Hungry people are important to God and should be important to our congress, to our local churches, and to our small farmers. Tony spends his life growing food a few miles from my home to feed people. I somehow feel it could be disrespectful to order food from Georgia or to encourage anyone else to do so in light of that fact.

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