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Pope Mary and the new wave of food hubs


When I wrote “Pope Mary and the Church of Almighty Good Food,” I thought I was proposing a rather preposterous idea. In my fictional story, the congregation of a church that was closed much against its will decided to turn their property into a sort of food center to grow and process fruits, vegetables, and grains for the neighborhood. But when Susie Sutphin visited us recently (Foodchronicles.net) she told about a closed church, St. George’s Lithuanian Church in Cleveland, Ohio, that was doing very much like what my fictional story described. The people turned their church building and land around it into what they describe as a “food hub” called Community Greenhouse Partners to grow food for the surrounding neighborhood. CGP is the brainchild of Timothy Smith who is its executive director. Can you imagine?

A few days later, Ed Searl, a Unitarian minister in Hinsdale, Illinois who was inspired to base a whole sermon on Pope Mary, gave me one of his annual Gannett Awards for my blog posted here a couple of weeks ago about how farming could increase jobs. (searlsermons.blogspot.com). When I thanked him and mentioned the Cleveland church, he told me of other churches turning themselves into “food hubs” including one in Youngstown, Ohio. He said maybe I was on the “forming edge of wave.”

I get nervous about being part of any new movement except maybe healthy bowel movements, but I confess to feeling very elated about this food hub idea and any part I may have played in it. For some reason, when I write novels that sort of make fun of organized religion, it is organized religion that seems most appreciative. Amazing. Mike Mather, who is pastor of a Methodist church in Indianapolis (www.broadwayumc.org) came to visit me too. He had a message we all need to hear. He and the people in his church are part of the new “food hub” wave, although he didn’t call it that. He just wants to encourage the people in his church to start asserting their food independence. But instead of going the usual route of venturing forth and trying to teach the people how to grow food, Mike decided to ask the parishioners themselves how to go about it. Much to his surprise, he found out that there were plenty of people already gardening and establishing their food independence in the neighborhood. What was lacking was any inclination to organize promotional efforts. Most gardeners and farmers do not really like to face the public. We are rather private people by nature and feel very ill at ease in public. (I think that is why communicating with each other on blog sites appeals to us— it is a way to be private and public at the same time.) So Mike and his church leaders took on the job of publicity and promotion. The gardeners stepped up and handled the rest.

I think there is a lesson here for all of us visionaries of a food hub future. Many people imbued with the missionary spirit ask me how I would go about converting more of society to food independence. They want to go into the schools and other institutions and teach gardening skills. Going this route is okay, but you generally find yourself dealing with idealists or first fervor types who like to talk about producing their own food but who have no idea of how much hard work is involved.

Instead, follow Mike Mather’s example. Go out and acquaint yourself with the people who are already gardening and farming because they love it. Help them find more land or empty lots. Get city officials to find a place where they can have a public market. If you are a large scale farmer and want to get involved, donate an acre or two to the cause. Start supporting politicians who want to help the food hub idea, like Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown who hosted a meeting at CGP recently. Do all that legal beagle work that gardeners and farmers have no taste or talent for.

One thing I am sure of, even if I am somewhat of a heathen. If you get organized religion behind the idea that we can no longer let the likes of Monsanto produce our food for us, we’ll take a giant leap forward.


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