In this second TED|Episode of A Deacon’s Musing, I am excited to explore David Gingera’s presentation TEDxManitoba 2014 presentation entitled Farming Our Future (The Urban Agriculture Revolution).

There are several things that drew me to highlight this particular presentation as the first one by which I honour my commitment to TEDxManitoba. Three words (specifically) that I think translate well between the secular context of TED and a faith-based one such as The United Church of Canada are ‘adventure,’ ‘community’ and ‘nature’ or (in church-ese) ‘Creation.’ I admit there are many more, but for the sake of a blog, I thought I would start here!


Image: Janet Ramsden

I remember watching David present. As he did so, he first grounded the experience in the theme of adventure. As people of faith, adventure really should be our middle name! It doesn’t mean the experience is always fun or easy, but its a journey that often leads to awakening, revelation and even innovation! Walking the path of adventure – when done with intention – allows us to see everything anew, potential-filled and wonder-abundant.

The second word ‘community,’ which David used, instantly reminded me of friends who are already urban farming, running/involved in Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) initiatives or are reflecting upon food security from a faith-based context. Furthermore, David reminded us that what was central to the experience of food production 200 years ago was ultimately the community. Not that the product wasn’t important – let’s face it life gets dicey without food! – but it was in the relationships, the shared sustenance, the knowing of one another’s story that food was less a consumable commodity and more like the binding threads that form a tapestry. I think David demonstrated well how – 200 years later – food production has moved away from the community and the stories that make us who we are. We have become removed from the intimacy of food production and the mutuality that can arise when you know the person from whom you have acquired the day’s meal and the reciprocal gratitude for valuing such labour.

The other word that I want to explore, which seems important to me, is the ‘Creation.’ For David, this removal from the system of food production has been detrimental to the environment. As he asks (perhaps rhetorically): is it okay that those who grow food must wear hazmat gear in order to fertilise and harvest? What are the implication for the quality of the food that arrives on our table, the health of those who grow and prepare it and (ultimately) well-being of the environment? As a people of faith, if we understand ourselves as Stewards of Creation – that we are meant to nurture and care for something that does not belong to us – does this reality of food production honour that role to which we understand ourselves to have been called?

Prairie Homestead

Prairie Homestead
Image: Shelly Manley-Tannis

There’s an old Christian concept called Jubilee and – connected to it – is the idea of Sabbath. Both of these very old ideas (in Christian-ese: theologies or ways of understanding God) reach back to a time in which agricultural health, economics and justice were intimately connected. A time in which people and the land were exploited and some had more to such an extent that indebtedness, slavery and oppression were the results of a system out of whack. In our Christian story, the response to this inequity was the idea of forgiveness of debt (Jubilee) and the fallow of land, in order that it might recharge and heal (Sabbath). These literal and metaphorical realities of our theology – I believe – speak well to the urban agriculture movement’s critique of mass farming production and its implicit challenge: and that question is who actually benefits?

I would not imply that the challenges before us are easy. It is also important to name that for many the idea of an ‘Urban Agricultural Revolution’ only highlights the realities of privilege. For many in our cities and towns, urban farming is simply too expensive to even contemplate. And, yes, this is also a justice issue. The larger connexion with Creation and our role as Stewards (I suspect) might lead to the possibility of naming common ground in this tension. Common ground in which both secular and faith-based individuals and organisations realise that the status quo – the consumerisation of food – can be navigated better when we walk with one another to seek solutions.

I believe that David’s particular focus highlights a more general theme of commonality that exists between state and church: the real question (well one of them from my/our faith-based location) is how might the church might listen to secular voices with humility, in order to begin to hear something which might invite all of us into a new adventure?