Stewardship of the Land: A Christian Community Gathering

Joel Salatin. Photo courtesy of Eco-Steward Amber Scheid.

By Trevar Simmons

On the top of a mountain in southern West Virginia, a group of Christians gathered to discuss “Stewardship of the Land” at the Presbyterian’s Bluestone Camp and Retreat (PC-USA).

The weekend began on Friday, May 21, with a marvelous dinner provided by Cheryl Miller and her crew at Bluestone. Miller and Bluestone went an extra mile to procure food items for the weekend that were local and/or organic. After dinner, the meetings commenced with an introduction of the Eco-Stewards program whose weeklong event concluded with the conference on earth care. Rev. Kate McGregor Mosley then led a liturgy, complete with Taizé, Scripture, and prayers with a bent on humanity’s relationship with God as creator and sustainer.

Saturday morning opened with the first of three sessions, all centered on faith and environmentalism, be it for the individual or the community. Some topics included “Food and Hunger Issues in West Virginia,” “Eco-Crafts for Children of All Ages,” “Churches as Guardians of Creation: Take 10 Steps in 2010,” and “Just Living: Making Consumer Choices with People and the Planet in Mind.”

The highlight of the weekend gathering was keynote speaker Joel Salatin, a sustainable farmer popularized by his homestead Polyface Farms, his publications, and a spotlight in the book The Omnivore’s Dilemma by MIchael Pollan and the documentaries Food, Inc. and Fresh: The Movie. Salatin’s talk was a story about why he does what he does, a story about vocation.

Salatin said vocation is about creating vision and hope to answer the many problems in life from marriage and employment problems to environmental issues. At Polyface Farms, “whether they eat or drink,” they want “to do all to the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31). Since people can glorify God in the mundane, Salatin’s vocation responds to the question, “Is there a godly way to farm?” and bringing order out of the chaos that is the “Wall-Street-ification” of farming, which hurts the land and animals it uses for production.

Salatin maintains that how we treat the physical world translates to how we treat other humans, since they are part of that physical world. Animals work the same, cannibalizing and treating each other poorly when their essence is suppressed. Large chicken farms cut of the beaks off chickens, because the chickens are harming each other with their beaks. Salatin believes this cannibalization happens because the chickens are not allowed to be chickens. Salatin’s chickens express their “chicken-ness” freely, what the farm calls “pastured broilers.”

When we recognize life’s intrinsic value, “we create sacred place and ministry,” as Salatin put it. Salatin desires humans to respect the land and the animals we eat (if we are omnivores) and simultaneously respect humanity and ourselves. With this respect for life’s intrinsic value, we are healing our relationships with each other, with the land on which we live, and with the animals who share that land. Better yet, we are also healing that land and the animals. As a “land healer,” Salatin works with his God “in the redemption business,” as Polyface Farms’ website puts it: “healing the land, healing the food, healing the economy, and healing the culture.”

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