The growing popularity of farmers markets and organic food options are a small sign that more Americans are taking an interest in where their food comes from and how it is produced.
But more education is needed. Too many people still don’t know how the food they eat gets to their table and why they should care — a situation pointed out several years ago by the U.S. bishops in their pastoral reflection on agriculture, “For I Was Hungry & You Gave Me Food.”
The church takes an interest in farming and food production because food — more than being just another product on a store shelf — sustains life itself, provides a livelihood for farmers, supports rural communities, and challenges us to be good stewards of the land. For these reasons, agriculture has a moral dimension we can’t ignore.
That’s why the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis sponsors an annual Rural Life Sunday celebration. This year, the event will be held June 24 on a Le Sueur area farm and feature Mass, lunch, entertainment and a petting zoo. The celebration is one way to help people better understand the life of farmers and their relationship to the land.
There are other ways as well to learn more about farming and how to support rural communities. Jim Ennis, executive director of the National Catholic Rural LifeConference, offered the following suggestions in a previous interview with The Catholic Spirit:
• Think about where your food comes from. Purchase locally grown food whenever possible. Support local farmers markets or ask where produce comes from at the grocery store.
• Be engaged in issues that impact rural communities. Sign up to receive the National Catholic Rural Life Conference’s electronic newsletter at http://www.ncrlc.com. The newsletter provides information about rural life programs, agriculture and food issues, environmental justice concerns, and pastoral and spiritual issues affecting rural communities. You can also follow the conference on Twitter @NCRLC and friend them on Facebook.
• Pray for farmers and for people who don’t have enough to eat.
• Visit a farm. The Minnesota Department of Agriculture publishes the “Minnesota Grown Directory,” which lists 945 farmers markets, berry farms, garden centers, orchards, community-supported agriculture farms, Christmas tree farms, etc. The printed directory can be ordered free from Explore Minnesota Tourism at (888) 868-7476. The directory is also searchable online at http://www.minnesotagrown.com.
• Encourage your parish, school or workplace to purchase locally grown food.
The NCRLC website is also a good place to learn more about the farm bill — federal legislation that needs to be renewed about every five years and that addresses programs related to farming, conservation and domestic and international food assistance.
The 2012 bill is a priority of U.S. Catholic leaders. The NCRLC’s Ennis was among the signers of a letter sent last March to the leaders of the U.S. Senate’s Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry, asking them to “support a Farm Bill that provides for poor and hungry people both at home and abroad, offers effective support for those who grow our food, ensures fairness to family farmers and ranchers, and promotes stewardship of the land.”
The farm bill is slated to get renewed attention as the Senate returns from its Memorial Day recess. The House may also debate it later this month, according to the NCRLC.
Rural Life Sunday, the work of the NCRLC and the farm bill discussion give us opportunities to learn about the vital role played by farmers and rural communities, offer our support, and advocate for Catholic values that benefit the common good. We shouldn’t let the opportunities pass us by.