Called to sustainability
Tim Showalter Ehst, interim co-director of DOOR Atlanta, has been leading an initiative to feed DOOR participants using mostly local and organic food.
Tim’s five reasons to eat local and organic:
1) It supports the local economy. People from all over the political and theological spectrum are concerned about where their dollars and jobs are going. Buying locally makes sure our food dollars go to the farmer who lives down the road.
2) It is a practice of creation care. Studies have shown the average meal in the United States travels 2,000-3,000 miles to our plates, using excessive petroleum, water, and other resources along the way. By buying from local farmers, we minimize the distance our food travels, the impact on soil and animal eco-systems, and contribute to a more healthy stewardship of God’s creation.
3) It builds community. One of our jobs as Christians is to build the church, get to know our neighbors, and help usher in God’s beloved community on earth. Think about using farmers’ markets, getting to know farmers, buying half a hog with a neighbor, or purchasing a share of vegetables from a local CSA — community supported agricultural project — with a friend. All of these are ways to incorporate our habits of buying and eating food – something we can’t avoid doing – into our Christian witness of being good neighbors and building community.
4) It regains control of our health. It is hard to buy food these days and avoid food additives like dyes and preservatives. Many of these additives have not been conclusively tested to be healthy for our bodies or the environment. Buying organic foods and local foods (in which case, you can ask the producer what goes into the production) returns to us a measure of control over what goes into our bodies.
5) It just tastes better! Has your grandmother ever told you about how the apples tasted when she was a little girl? Over the past 60-70 years, we’ve bred characteristics into our food crops to make them more productive, store longer, and ship better. The problem is that hard orange-red tomatoes and, in general, vegetables and fruits with less available sugars, ship better and last longer. Unfortunately, almost without exception, they also taste worse. So give yourself a treat: Eat some local (perhaps even heirloom variety) foods!
I am a farmer. A Christian farmer. A low-input, sustainable, Christian farmer. I believe that our work is to create the new Eden—an Eden that is interdependent and sustainable in ways that the most radical hippies and permaculturists never imagined. And I believe I am being called to this vocation, to these beliefs.
There was a moment in a carrot patch when I realized that I loved this work. I was weeding carrots in a cold spring rain, fingers stinging, and, despite the conditions, still felt that rush that I’ve come to recognize as the work giving me life. I often cite the carrot patch when people ask how and when I knew. But in the end, and like most calls, it didn’t come in a moment. And, in many ways, it’s still coming.
I also usually say that I came to my vocation intellectually, and then admit the undertones of upbringing. We had a big garden when I was a kid, but I hated weeding the potatoes, shelling the peas, and shucking the corn. I hated it even as it became a part of me. I hated digging post holes with my dad, but I developed the patience and attention it takes to maintain livestock fences. And so, when I discovered Wendell Berry’s words, along with Gene Logsdon’s and other laureates of sustainable agriculture and land stewardship, it didn’t take long for me to appreciate the profound learnings of my childhood and the purposeful lives that my parents exhibited.
And so the story of my call is intangible in many ways. In some way it has been bred into me. I picked cherries in my granddad’s orchard, and potato bugs in my grandma’s garden. In other ways, it has been etched into me. Since college, I have had the pleadings from the film Food Inc., Berry’s The Unsettling of America, Sharon Astyk and Aaron Newton’s Nation of Farmers, and other exposés on our broken food system written on my heart. In Atlanta, Ga., I helped start Oakleaf Mennonite Farm at Berea Mennonite Church, and learned about the beauties and complications of growing food in the midst of church.
I believe we are living in very fragile times. In my most apocalyptic moments, I foresee the end of cheap fuel, rising food costs, and expanding populations of malnourished people. I envision the church leading the response, salving the wounds of a post-petroleum world. And it is here, alongside the church responding to a broken world, that I find my calling. Addressing parts of our brokenness by imagining and creating new approaches to food production, distribution and education is particularly slow and difficult work. But it is worth it. And, as it turns out, I like it, just like weeding carrots in a chilly rain.
Tim Showalter Ehst is the city co-director for DOOR Atlanta. He attends Atlanta Mennonite Fellowship.
Tim Showalter Ehst