Unitarian Universalists Bring Religious Perspective to Food Gardening Trend
Motivated by a religious commitment to environmental protection and poverty alleviation, Unitarian Universalist (UU) congregations around the country are supporting food gardening projects. Through growing their own gardens, gleaning produce, and organizing farmers’ markets, congregations are living out their spiritual values and making a difference in their communities.
“All people, regardless of their economic status, deserve access to fresh, organic produce,” said Cheryl Bourassa, organizer of the food garden of the Second Congregational Society in Concord, NH. The congregation’s garden provides produce to local food banks. “This sort of food nourishes the body and the spirit.”
At Unitarian Universalist Church in Elgin, IL, volunteers attend garden parties in which they spend an hour planting, mulching, setting up trellises, and otherwise supporting the congregation’s food garden. “Our garden is a direct manifestation of our engagement with the interdependent web of life,” explained garden coordinator Donna Askins. “Efficient, organic gardening methods tread lightly upon the Earth, and the synergy of the gardeners working together produces much more food and fellowship than any one of us could create alone.”
Gleaning leftover food from farms and donating it to food banks is another way that congregations ease hunger in their local communities. The Tapestry congregation in Mission Viejo, CA, volunteers with Second Harvest in Orange County to glean fields; the produce is redistributed to the hungry through local agencies. Tapestry volunteers also help Second Harvest by raising money for the charity during Sunday morning offertories, and by sorting and repackaging donated food. “In the current financial climate, we find that homelessness and hunger can strike any one, even in ‘affluent’ Orange County,” noted Bev Huff, chair of the Green Sanctuary committee at Tapestry.
Congregations are also hosting farmers’ markets. The Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Fairfax (UUCF), VA, holds a farmers' market every Saturday, year-round. “Ethical eating touches on so many aspects of spiritual health,” said Rev. Mary Katherine Morn, UUCF parish minister. “When we enter into a deeper, more mindful relationship with food, we discover that food can create beauty, joy, and health in our lives.”
“All of the great traditions are involved with food issues,” observed Rev. Bob Murphy of the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Falmouth, MA. His congregation has been a national leader on ethical eating issues and takes on projects that combine traditional social justice concerns with environmental issues. “We start with food because it's one of the basics and it's something that everybody understands.”
These congregations are representative of a national movement among Unitarian Universalist congregations to explore and act on ethical eating issues. At the 2008 Unitarian Universalist Association General Assembly, congregations voted to make ethical eating their Congregational Study/Action Issue for 2008-2012.
Rev. John Millspaugh, who led the creation of an ethical eating study guide for congregations, remarked, “It would be so powerful if every time we ate we reminded ourselves of our ethical and spiritual values. Why not nourish our spirits and help heal the world with every bite?”