Green Christians show the way to sustainable food

By Ellen Teague
July 6, 2010

Victor Barry is a farmer whose idyllic Coastal Heritage Farm overlooks the sea in Cornwall. He says his Catholic faith has inspired him to combine Christian living with caring for the planet, and he has a passion for small-scale, organic, low-carbon footprint farming. Since taking over the farm in 1998 he has re-established old farm working practices, including the use of shire horses. Victor is part of an advisory body for the inauguration of certified courses to QCF standard for working horses and ponies on the land, together with small-scale organic farming methods. He is also a keen supporter of the Transition Network of community-led responses to the pressures of climate change and peak oil.

Sally Leigh has worked for Housing Justice for the past two years, campaigning for social justice for vulnerable homeless people, and working on a project examining nutrition and rough sleeping. She also has an allotment “which keeps me busy in spring and summer” and enjoys producing home-cooked meals for her family. Sally too cares about the source of her food and making ethical choices marked by sustainability criteria. She has experience of organising and co-managing a farmer’s market on behalf of Friends of the Earth in North London, with the aim of persuading people to think about reducing their food miles and buying local produce.

Both are speakers at a Derbyshire conference 16-18 July, focusing on sustainable food and agriculture and organised by the National Justice and Peace network, a liaison organisation of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales. Around 400 participants will study the theme: ‘Our Daily Bread – Food Security, People and Planet’, and look at how people like Victor and Sally are reconnecting to agro-ecological agriculture and food. And there are links with key themes of Catholic Social Teaching, particularly Solidarity, Option for the Poor and Vulnerable, Sufficiency for all, and Care for God’s Creation.

Food growing on dwindling town soil is an issue close to the heart of ecological theologian Edward Echlin, especially as easy access to food and fertile soil and symbiotic climate can no longer be taken for granted. Along with his wife Barbara, they grow organic fruit and vegetables in their garden in East Sussex. Barbara is a trustee of Christian Ecology Link, whose LOAF principles promote food which is Locally produced, Organically grown, Animal friendly and Fairly traded. She feels that ‘LOAF’ isn’t just a nice idea for the middle classes, but a practical way for all to source food. Both are running workshops at the conference, alongside Dr Mae-Wan Ho, author of ‘Genetic Engineering: Dream or Nightmare’ who will argue that genetically modified crops are not an answer to world hunger, and that we need to look instead at putting resources towards sustainable, organic agriculture.

And that is an issue which concerns the Rev Sarah Brown, the chief executive of Farm Crisis Network, a national charity representing the churches’ response to difficulties in the farming community. It supports farming families and works for justice in the wider agricultural community, and in her workshop Sarah will highlight the hardships facing Britain’s dwindling number of small farmers. Deborah Jones, General Secretary of Catholic Concern for Animals and a patron of the Christian Vegetarian Association UK, will argue in her workshop: ‘Is meat a moral matter?’ that feeding the world without violence to animals is better for both people and animals.

Mary Colwell, a former BBC Producer at the Natural History Unit and now a freelance consultant on faith and the environment, is passionate about biodiversity, and 2010 is the UN International Year of Biodiversity. Her workshop will demonstrate how we need biodiversity to keep us fed. “Biodiversity is not a luxury, it is a necessity” she says, “and I would love to see every Christian community act on behalf of, and pray for our world throughout this year and beyond”. This issue also concerns Alastair McIntosh, an Isle of Lewis-raised writer, broadcaster and campaigner best known for his work on land reform on Eigg and helping to stop the Harris superquarry. A keynote speaker at the conference, he feels the Scottish islands are more susceptible to food crises now than they were in his childhood. The impacts of lack of respect for the fish and the marine environment, de-linking from local community and careless use of technology have all contributed undermining sustainability. Yet, he feels that there is the potential to build community and ‘virtuous cycles’ again, towards living a life that “deepens into frugal but fulfilling sufficiency”. Christian communities must play their part in that.

Further details at: A few places are still available.


Ellen Teague is a freelance Catholic journalist who works regularly for The Tablet, JUSTICE magazine, Independent Catholic News, Redemptorist Publications and the Messenger of St. Anthony. She is also a member of the Columban Missionary Society Justice and Peace team, and chairs the Environment Working Group of the National Justice and Peace Network of England and Wales.

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