A Graceful Opportunity: Transforming Creation Care in Delaware

A Graceful Opportunity: Transforming Creation Care in Delaware

by Steven W. Jones.

At the heart of creation care is love —  love for the life below and above our feet. Creation care means loving ourselves, families, neighbors, nation, world, and God. Being intentional stewards of God’s gifts honors him and ensures our well-being. As a church, our engagement in parish life involves responding to needs like Code Purple or Sunday breakfast missions, which are creation care actions grounded in love. Rarely do we have the opportunity to effect a systems change at the diocesan level aligned         with our values. Yet such a new opportunity exists. The Episcopal Church in Delaware has taken the lead to help improve creation while strengthening community by being the first diocese known to support local producers when purchasing food.

The Church of Saints Andrew and Matthew (SsAM), has committed to improving community life. During our 2016 Season of Creation, I was asked to discuss local food systems. The key points:

  • Boosting local food business activity with employment, income, and state and local tax revenue over the poultry sector.
  • Using sustainable practices to reduce carbon emissions and water pollution significantly.
  • Identifying needs and making room for more local food production.

Yet one parishioner gave me pause when she noted her difficulty in finding fresh without relying on transportation. Approximately 40 percent of our parish membership lives in zip codes 19801 and 19802 where there are few supermarkets.

Community health in Wilmington mirrors that of many large cities and some rural communities — more healthy food outlets are needed. According to St. Francis Hospital’s 2015 Community Heath Needs Assessment (CHNA), residents ranked their top health concerns to include high blood pressure, overweight/obesity, and diabetes. The report stated that the top resource for improving health was healthier food. Christiana Care’s 2015 CHNA reaffirmed that finding fruits and vegetables in Wilmington neighborhoods is relatively difficult when compared to other places in New Castle County. Given the scale of the challenge, solving the dilemma of low access must be achieved at the farm level.

South of Wilmington lies the Delmarva Peninsula, a region comprising 14 counties in three states, with over a million acres of arable land. The food from this region fed soldiers of the Allied Forces during World War II. Since then, this region’s assorted food production has diminished as national preference for chicken vaulted over beef. Poultry farming’s growth in our region drove the demand for feed grains in the form of corn and soybeans that dominate farm fields today.

Food farming has not disappeared entirely. A new community of producers, along with some older established names, is taking root. They are committed to sustainable or regenerative agricultural methods, a practice that emphasizes building soil health. Expensive pesticides degrade soil health and can be hazardous to humans. As advocates of creation care, we should learn that soil is not inert; fertile topsoil contains a complex world of microscopic life, forming a miraculous network that supports root structures and nutrient flow to crops.

You may have met some of these growers at farmers’ markets in downtown Wilmington, Glasgow Park, Chestertown, Easton, Historic Lewes, or Rehoboth. They are represented by regional organizations like Future Harvest Chesapeake Alliance for Sustainable Agriculture (CASA), and the recently formed Delmarva Farmers’ Union. They are our land stewards, and the church has an opportunity and obligation to support the important, practical creation care work they do. Through dialog we can find a way to work together.

“We must find new ways of proclaiming the gospel in varied and ever-changing neighborhoods. Old ways of being the church no longer apply. We can no longer settle for complacency and comfort. … We can continue business as usual until we lose our common life entirely.” Resurrection Matters: Church Renewal for Creation’s Sake, the Rev. Nurya Love Parish (2018).

As a result of our research and mission, SsAM parishioners proposed a resolution at last year’s 233rd Annual Convention, Support Producers of Locally Grown Food. Our camps, conference centers, parish events, and affiliated schools annually purchase a lot of food, and we felt that our parishes can make a difference by aligning our creation care agenda with our food purchases.

With diocesan council’s approval, I met with Camp Arrowhead’s executive director and team. I was pleasantly surprised to learn that both Walt Lafontaine and the head chef, Jim Feaster, had worked with local farms before. However, because of delivery logistics the relationships weren’t sustainable. I found a distributor that purchased local food and could meet the camp’s delivery needs. However, identifying the source of food was not fully tracked. That summer, Chesapeake Harvest, a regional enterprise, launched a new online platform to rebuild the Chesapeake Bay watershed’s agriculture. Their objective is not only to sell local food but also to drive additional transactions that lead to regional trade driven by sustainable agriculture. They offer a variety of foods: Pink Lady apples, blueberries, microgreens, cheese, pork chops, yogurt, bacon, apple butter, kombucha, honey, and peach cheese cake are among the vetted suppliers’ offerings. Chesapeake Harvest is a game changer.

In the long run, fertile land and clean water, naturally available in a healthy world, will sustain us, but it takes work and consciousness. We need to eat more wisely and more reverently. Growing good food requires sacrifice. More of us need to understand this; cheap food is not really cheap.

“Honor and accept responsibility for the gifts of God given to each other for the furtherance of life … moving more deeply and more sympathetically into the memberships of creation.” Food and Faith: A Theology of Eating, Norman Wirzba (2011).

Supporting our local food producers is the Episcopal Church in Delaware’s opportunity to joyfully and intentionally proclaim the Good News that we are linked to a garden where God’s food can still nurture. Through intentional procurement we can tend this garden indirectly by supporting those who willingly work with the soil and ultimately supply our community with the healthiest food possible. This is sustainable creation care in action.

Steven Jones is a member of the Church of Sts. Andrew & Matthew. He is the founder of Eastern Shore Agriculture Sustains, Inc. and the vice president of Future Harvest CASA. swjones836@gmail.com

Adopted at the 233rd Convention of the Episcopal Church in Delaware

Resolved:

RESOLVED, That the 233rd Annual Convention of the Diocese of Delaware requests the Bishop and Council to explore the feasibility of allocating a defined percentage of its total annual food expenditure for Camp Arrowhead, Memorial House, and diocesan events, to food grown on the Delmarva Peninsula or freshly processed food for meals at Camp Arrowhead, Memorial House, etc. directly through its food service contractors, and be it further

RESOLVED, That this 233rd Annual Convention of the Diocese of Delaware urge diocesan institutions, schools and parishes, as they provide, prepare and serve meals and distribute food at events and ministries, to make every effort to use locally grown and processed foods, and be it further

RESOLVED, That the 233rd Convention encourages further discussion among all parishes and the Trustees of the Episcopal Church of the Diocese of Delaware to plan and implement what can be referred to as the Go(o)d Food Challenge, a potential model for the Diocese.

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