Where do the lines of faith and sustainability cross? How do our religious beliefs shape what we believe about the Earth and the people around us? How do we act out our beliefs despite living hectic American lifestyles? These are the questions that Kentucky author Will Samson has addressed in some of his books and through his work with Blessed Earth.
This is a man who has worked in such diverse fields as campaign consultant and college professor. Several years ago, he and his family left Washington D.C. to pursue a life more in line with their faith and personal convictions about sustainability. They relocated to Lexington where Will pursued doctoral studies in theology and sociology, with a focus on food and the environment. He is the author of Enough: Contentment in an Age of Excess and co-author with his wife, novelist Lisa Samson, of Justice in the Burbs, a book that engages Christians in issues of social justice. Today, Will works for Blessed Earth, the Lexington-based educational nonprofit that helps equip people of faith to become better stewards of the environment.
I had the pleasure of meeting Will a few months ago during the Cluck! Chicken Coop Tour in Lexington. This is a man who is definitely devoted to living a lifestyle different from the norm, and also someone who can converse intelligently on a wide variety of topics—I know I had roughly 2,000 additional questions I wanted to ask him when the day was over. He graciously agreed to subject himself to some questioning on the blog!
SK: Tell us about your path to sustainability and the local food movement. What experiences led you to where you are today?
When we moved to Kentucky in 2005, we opened our house to have other people live with us—a new experience for a family from the suburbs—and one of the couples living with us was Ryan and Jodie Koch. Ryan is now the head of the Seedleaf community gardening initiative. He planted the first garden at our house and, through the Koch’s recommendation, we subscribed to our first CSA from Three Springs Farm. Those experiences of growing my own food and tasting fresh, real food brought about my conversion to local food.
I love to cook, and I suppose that is the third reason for my involvement with local food—local food tastes better and is more beautiful. Those of us in the local and sustainable food movement don’t spend enough time on aesthetics, but for me it is a big motivation. Yes, fresh, real food is healthier for all of us. But if we can have that benefit while also enjoying beauty then we are doubly blessed.
SK: What role do you think religious institutions play in the pursuit of sustainability as a culture? Can they have an impact or does it have to happen at the level of the individual?
Will: Churches, temples, and mosques should be places of moral formation, and sustainability is, to me, one of the most important moral issues of our time. Our actions today are determining the available choices for all future generations.
I believe the change needs to be led by both our religious institutions and individuals, but institutions can definitely affect their members and bring about change in their daily practices. Imagine if churches would take their lawns, which are expensive to maintain and don’t accomplish anything, and turn them into garden spaces. That would be a great reminder of the source of food, and people coming to church would get that reminder every week.
There are some examples of religious institutions taking the lead on the sustainability and food fronts. Anatoth Gardens in North Carolina is a large, community-led endeavor that was started by Cedar Grove United Methodist Church, a local church that began the garden as a way to heal the community after a tragic shooting had occurred.
Another great example is Hazon, which states their vision as “creating healthier and more sustainable communities in the Jewish world and beyond.” They are a catalyst for change among the Jewish population and are very clear about their religious orientation.
I tend to focus on food because that is what people seem to understand the most. And, if you look within the food movement, you will find all flavors of political ideology, from libertarianism to socialism. Something happens when you get your hands in the dirt—all those silly distinctions seem to melt away.
I see great hope for change on this issue. Most of the people I know under 30 are quite aware of our need to move toward sustainability.
SK: Favorite Kentucky farm:
Will: My favorite Kentucky farm is Triple J Farms in Scott County. Elmwood Farms is a close second, as is Three Springs. I also have to mention Marksbury Farms, which is producing some of the best charcuterie I have tasted.
SK: Favorite fresh-from-the-garden meal or recipe:
Will: If I can only pick one I would say it is braised turnips with thyme (the recipe is in Deborah Madison’s book Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone).
SK: Favorite reads related to sustainability:
Will: I could list a lot of books here, but this is my top seven, in no particular order:
Paradox of Plenty, Harvey Levenstein
The Art of the Commonplace, Wendell Berry
Making Peace with the Land, Norman Wirzba and Fred Bahnson
What to Eat, Marion Nestle
Deep Economy, Bill McKibben
Scripture, Culture, and Agriculture, Ellen F. Davis
Omnivore’s Dilemma, Michael Pollan
Thanks to Will for graciously answering my questions and sharing his thoughts. If you are a Christian with an interest in sustainability, then be sure to check out Will’s books. If your church is looking to take steps towards sustainability, be sure to connect with the amazing team at Blessed Earth.