'That's My Farmer!' A Huge and Wonderful Adventure
by Mary Beth Coudal
Last September, when Laurel Stiller heard that the E. coli bacteria was found in bagged spinach, she did not worry for one moment. No, Laurel went ahead, steamed her spinach, and served it up to her family.
That's because Stiller knew exactly where her spinach had come from. It came from a local Eugene, Oregon, farm through “That's My Farmer!”—a community-supported agriculture project.
Stiller calls her worry-free spinach days “a real return on our investment.” Her family bought shares in the local farm through “That's My Farmer!” at First United Methodist Church in Eugene. For an initial investment of between $400 and $600, families like the Stillers can share in the abundance and risks of family farming for a season. (Seasons usually last from June to October.)
Seven years ago, the Rev. John Pitney, associate pastor at First Church, began “That's My Farmer!” Today, 15 faith communities support 11 local farms.
Every spring Eugene's First Church kicks off “That's My Farmer!” with a festival, introducing hundreds of people to their local farmers and to the benefits and hazards of partnership with a farmer. Along with door prizes and entertainment, farmers have a chance to talk about their faith at the festival.
At the festival, “We usually ask one of the farmers where they experience God in their farming? We might ask, ‘Where is your sense of wonder or magic or God or the spirit? Where do you experience the power beyond yourself when you farm?’” explains Pitney, sensitive to the language he uses when talking with farmers from many faiths. “They respond with their own faith.”
At a recent spring “That's My Farmer!” festival, Muslim people opened the event with prayers. Among the participating faith communities are Jewish, Catholic, and Protestant congregations. Among the diverse Christians, United Methodists, Mormons, Quakers, and Mennonites participate.
“It is a huge and wonderful educational adventure to be a part of a farm,” asserts Pitney. Throughout this adventure, Pitney claims that it is often the children who instinctively understand the lessons, joys, and challenges found on the farm or in the garden.
What Children Know
The Stiller children, ages 11, 4, and 2, have learned to enjoy the simplicity of vegetables. “They don't have to be cooked to be good. You cannot find carrots in any store that will taste as good as from the farm. They love carrots from the farm.”
When the weekly box of vegetables is delivered, “that box has created a spirit of community,” Stiller claims. The Stiller family shares a box of produce with the Pitney family. The two families often have dinner together the night the box is dropped off. Last fall, the children found potatoes, turnips, beets, lettuce, spinach, cabbage, brussel sprouts, apples, and eggs in their boxes.
“That's My Farmer!” Stiller explains, “helps you learn that things come in seasons. You have to enjoy things when they are fresh.”
The children learn that an imperfect fruit or vegetable still tastes good. “That's a reality of organic vegetables. They're not expecting perfection like they see in the supermarket,” claims Stiller.
The children have also come to understand that working in the fields, with its physical rigors and dependence on nature, is hard work.
What Families Understand
A family garden increases a family's health, well-being, and unity in many ways. One family reported that the reason they appreciate Huerto de la Familia is because it is the only time and place that all family members can be together.
“The garden is the place where they can de-stress,” says Sarah Cantril, founder and director of Huerto de la Familia.
The family garden is “a safe place to be outdoors, to have contact with the earth. Families also talk about wanting to connect their children's lives and their grandparent's lives,” says Cantril.
A family garden reconnects a person to ancestral roots. Ana Guillen, a family gardener, grows roses in her plot because they remind her of her girlhood in Mexico City. Most Huerto de la Familia families are from Mexico, where ancestors had a closer connection to the land than their modern-day grandchildren.
“I really like it,” says Hidaclio Cruz, who used to farm in Mexico and now grows his crops through the Huerto de la Familia. “We save some money. And it's all organic so that's good for you.”
On his day off, Cruz often brings his five-year-old son to garden. They enjoy chatting with other family gardeners about their crops. Last season, Hidaclio grew corn, tomatoes, green beans, cilantro, squash, and pumpkins.
Through Eugene's First Church, 30 Huerto de la Familia families received 60 “That's My Farmer!” coupon books, valued at $20 each. First Church raised the money through various fundraisers, including the spring “That's My Farmer!” festival.
Family members redeem their coupons at farmers’ markets. The coupon books, or as they're called, “That's My Farmer! Bucks,” make a difference to Lane County's Latino community wherein 27 percent of families live at or below the poverty level.
“One man was new to the program so I was giving him orientation information. When I gave him the coupon book, his eyes welled up with tears, I could see how much that extra help has meant for him,” says Cantril.
What Communities Can Learn
“The earth is the Lord's and the fullness thereof,” says the Rev. Carol Thompson, who visited “That's My Farmer!” in Eugene as part of Global Ministries’ Domestic Hunger/Poverty and Economic Justice grant committee. “Why wouldn't you care where your food came from and what's happening to the farmers in your area?”
“In the long-run, in this time of a globalizing food system, the truest food security is to have a local farmer growing your food,” local farmer Shari Shirkin told faith partners at a recent interfaith meeting.
United Methodists support “That's My Farmer!” and other community-supported agriculture projects through your gifts to the World Hunger Advance Special #982920.
Mary Beth Coudal is a staff writer in Communications for the General Board of Global Ministries.
Date posted: Jan 09, 2007