From Richmond to Vegetarianism

An Eco-Stewards Richmond Reflection

By Laura Haney

In June, I arrived in Richmond for the Eco-Stewards Program, a week of exploring the James River watershed and its organic farms and intentional Christian communities. I wasn’t really sure what impacts the program would have on me, but it didn’t take long to start having meaningful conversations and experiences that would have lasting changes, especially on my diet. During our week, we were offered mostly vegetarian options and I found I enjoyed filling my sandwiches with sautéed kale, pea sprouts, and other greens instead of meat. I talked with many people, both fellow Eco-Stewards and our guest speakers, who currently or at some point in their lives had been vegetarian or vegan. We talked about their faith and their motivation for their food choices.

The Eco-Stewards Richmond program featured vegetarian meals made with locally-grown produce and included an opportunity to talk and help farmers at Shalom Farms in Richmond.

After Eco-Stewards, I decided to become a vegetarian myself. It was not a random decision. In fact, it was something I had thought about for a while before Eco-Stewards, but never found any reason in my life to fully commit to it. Even before June, I often ate meat-free meals and many times, I jokingly referred to myself as a “vegetarian with commitment issues.” After discussions at Eco-Stewards and some personal reflection, I was compelled to become a vegetarian by thinking about how to make my ecological footprint smaller as a way to better care for God’s creation.

Eating a large amount of meat is more harmful to the earth because raising cows for beef, one of the most highly-consumed meats in our country, uses more energy and resources than growing crops. Pork and poultry use less resources than beef, but still significantly more than plant-based agriculture. If it takes 10 pounds of plant feed to produce 1 pound of beef, why not save the 10 pounds of plants for human consumption and feed more people? By eating the plants that would be used to feed cows, pigs, chickens and other animals, instead of eating the animals, we could grow more food for everyone on this Earth, thus showing better care for our neighbors. In addition, cows produce a large amount of methane gas which is a contributor to global warming. Therefore, eating meat does cause you to have a larger carbon footprint. These facts also helped to motivate my decision to cut meat out of my diet.

I’d be lying to you if I said that this was an easy thing for me to stick with. Most of the time I do enjoy being a vegetarian and feel much healthier because of my new eating habits. However, there have been times when I’ve wanted to eat meat. Resisting temptation, however, is part of what we practice as Christians, and because I committed to this as a spiritual practice, I resist that temptation

I often get questions about my eating habits, but I enjoy the questions because it opens the door to good conversations. I can share how I feel called to care for creation and I want to have less of an impact on the earth which I choose to do by not eating meat. Additionally, I can talk about how caring for creation is key to my theology. These conversations open a lot of doors to other topics and meaningful discussions about faith and food, both of which people typically have a lot of thoughts on.

Unfortunately, many people are disconnected from their food (both in what they are eating and the ways it was grown/raised) and I, personally, would like to be much more connected to the food I eat than I currently am. I work at a camp where most of my meals are made for me. While this is convenient, I have little control over what I eat, and many of my vegetarian options are made from processed foods. Still, being vegetarian still allows me to have more awareness about my food, even while having little control over what is on my plate.

Gnocci with a garlic and cream sauce. Being a vegetarian has helped me to expand my eating options because I can be more creative with what I eat. In some ways I can view it as limiting, but it is also opening my eyes to new foods and recipes!

I read a devotional recently which discussed looking at the Advent season as a road ahead of us. In the road are boulders and potholes. The boulders are things that we have done that we shouldn’t have, and the potholes are the opposite, places where we have fallen short. To prepare ourselves for the coming of Christ on Christmas, we need to clear that road by filling in the potholes and moving the boulders. We must prepare our hearts for His coming through asking to be forgiven for our wrongdoings and changing our actions. In terms of environmental justice and food justice, there are a lot of potholes and boulders along my road this Advent season. However, through not eating meat, I am filling in those potholes just a little. It is a good step for me on my faith journey and my journey to lessen my carbon footprint.

This Advent season, if you feel like your shortcomings are a result of not caring for creation, reducing your meat consumption is a good place to start making changes. It doesn’t have to be to the degree of complete vegetarianism; there is a lot of middle ground and eating more vegetables and less meat can cut your ecological footprint significantly. There are a lot of facts and figures on the subject. For more information and ideas for making diet changes, check out Green Eatz. In addition, if you are curious about the size of your carbon footprint, check out this online calculator. I was very surprised after learning my own footprint, and I am inspired about how to fill in more of the potholes in my road during Advent.

Laura Haney is a Virginia native who until recently has always lived in the James River Watershed and grew up loving the land within it. Currently, she works and resides at Camp Grady Spruce in Possum Kingdom Lake, Texas where she leads groups of 5th graders in outdoor education programs. Following in the model of Eco-Stewards, she teaches children about the natural world so they may see the beauty of it and learn to care for it well. Her Christian faith strongly motivates her love for the outdoors and the work she does each day with children.

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Five Months Later: Upstream on The James

An Eco-Steward Reflection

by Alex Haney, Eco-Stewards Alum & Program Host

Half a year since Eco-Stewards Richmond, I can still recall many vivid scenes from our Journeying Toward Justice Along the James River program last June.

In one, we’re gathered in a circle near the banks of the James listening to the story of Earth Mother as reenacted by Beth Roach, a Member of the Nottaway Indian Tribe of Virginia and Grants Manager of the James River Association. Afterwards, she tells us about the 2015 James River Unity Walk (a Nibi Walk or Water Walk) when Sarah Day, an Ojibwe elder, led walkers from the James’ headwaters near Iron Gate in the mountains to its confluence with the Atlantic Ocean at the Chesapeake Bay at Fort Monroe. Indigenous women carried a bucket of water downstream, praying for the water as they walked beside it. The ceremony recognizes women and the sacred connection between their body and the water. Men don’t participate but are allowed to walk beside the women and carry the Eagle feather. The women carry water, the women carry life. Beth led us Eco-Stewards on a few steps of a simulated Walk for Unity. It was a powerful experience for me as a Male being told I was not allowed to carry the water no matter how badly I wanted to.

The Eco-Stewards Richmond group walks with Beth Roach in a “simulated” Walk for Unity along the James River.
Beth’s water bottle, a symbol for the water the women carried in the Walk for Unity.

 

Since my Eco-Stewards journey on the James River, or the Powhatan River, my company, Affordable Energy Concepts, has been doing a large solar project for Bath County Schools. It’s the largest school system solar array in Virginia, and one school has a solar array so large, 100 percent  of it’s annual power bill will be generated by the sun. Read more here. This project is special to me because I graduated from Bath County High School in 2008 and this past September, I put solar panels on my high school. How cool is that!

How is the James River involved in this project? Well, our company is based in Madison Heights, which is just across the James from my apartment in Lynchburg–about 2 hours by car upstream from our Eco-Stewards home base in Richmond. Essentially every Monday since Eco-Stewards, our crew has piled into the truck for the weekly ride. We snake east along the James over the mountain and turn north before Glasgow to follow the Maury River upstream to Lexington; then follow Kerr’s creek uphill and cross over the hill to chase Bratton’s Run downstream to Goshen, where the road follows Mill Creek to the eastern end of Bath County. We then cross over another mountain into the Cowpasture River Watershed, and for two of the schools, we cross over one more mountain into the Jackson River Watershed. These rivers and streams are all in the James River Watershed.

The river is first called the James River at the confluence of the Cowpasture and the Jackson—the place where water from two of the schools meets water from the third school. This is where they started the Walk for Unity. Our weekly commute is mostly along the path of that 2015 water walk.

There’s something thought provoking in recognizing that our sweat on the job, the melted ice we pour out of the cooler each day, the rain that soaks us on the job, and now the snow blocking the solar energy to the panels, all flows back to our home base farther down the James River, and farther on toward Richmond– all within the same river that our Eco-Stewards group held sacred in Richmond last summer. It’s the river Beth and the Ojibwe walked in prayer. The river of impressive stream habitat and water quality restoration in Ralph’s talk. The river of the most horrific parts of the slave trade. The river of the Nottaway people, the Monacan people, and other indigenous tribes. The river flowing below the Richmond Hill Community, where we ate, slept and prayed. The river inspiring our song-writing. The river of the Eco-Stewards’ prayers.

These past five months have felt like a continuation of the week-long Eco-Stewards journey, hearing stories of neighbors while on the road up and down stream, growing closer to my coworkers on the long car rides. Learning that my crew lead Justin helped build a shelter at the park where the Maury and James meet. Watching a co-worker Andrew yell at the highway sign holder throwing trash in “his river” on the road construction site. Hearing stories of co-workers getting in trouble for jumping into the James off the Appalachian Trail Foot Bridge. Catching Amazing scenic views of the river on Highway 130.

I am an Eco-Steward and the James River is my home. It’s been a gift to be part of the Eco-Stewards in my own watershed and to keep living in and meditating on that same river. I’d encourage everyone reading to explore your watershed, find out where God is working in your watershed. Pay attention to how the roads follow the waterways. And most of all get to know it. “Once you know it you will start to love it, and then you will protect it”— words spoken by at least three of our Eco-Stewards guests speakers. So true.

The pictures below are of places where I’ve stopped along the long commute to get to know the James a little better.

View of The James River near Rockbridge-Amherst County Line. Taken on my commute home from Eco-Stewards Richmond (June 2017).
The view looking east from The Appalachian Trail, three miles north of Foot Bridge near Snowden Dam (January 2017).
View looking west toward Glasgow, near Rockbridge-Amherst County Line (November 2017).

Close-up shots of the confluence of the Maury River and the James River at a park in Glasgow. James River Association helped sponsor construction projects at the park. I did not know about the park until I started exploring the weekend after the EcoStewards Richmond Program (June 2017).
James River Foot Bridge (Named in Memory of William T. Foot) Looking west from the south side of the river (November 2017).

Alex Haney (27) participated in Eco-Stewards Seattle in 2016 and then helped plan the 2017 Eco-Stewards Richmond Program along with Eco-Steward Alums Kathleen Murphy and Colleen Earp. Alex is a Virginia native and a Christian who grew up in the headwaters of the James and currently lives near Lynchburg, where he works for a solar panel contractor. Alex has an affinity for solar cooking, enjoys learning to play music on guitar, finding wild plants, and figuring out how to cook local food. “Eco-Stewards has shown me that my passion for the natural world and my faith are very much connected where I did not see it before,” says Alex. “I’d recommend the Eco-Stewards Program to anyone who cares about our natural world, and believes in God”