Craig Goodwin is the author of one of our favorite books of 2011, Year of Plenty. In the book:
“…Pastor Craig Goodwin and his young family embarked on a year-long experiment to consume only what was local, used, homegrown, or homemade. In Year of Plenty, Goodwin shares the winsome story of how an average suburban family stumbled onto the cultural cutting edge of locavores, backyard chickens, farmers markets, simple living, and going green. More than that, it is the timely tale of Christians exploring the intersections of faith, environment, and everyday life.”
We were delighted to be able to catch up with Craig via email and asked him a few questions. Enjoy!
ST: How have you turned a ‘year of plenty’ into a life of plenty? What does life look like after the book? Have you retired your rules or do you still incorporate them into your life today?
Craig: Our rules are still helpful companions on the journey, but they aren’t quite the rigid taskmasters they were during 2008. We continue to source as much food from local farmers as possible but have expanded our definition of local. The garden labyrinth is still a center of activities during the growing season and we’re thinking about adding some bees into the mix. Nancy bakes half a dozen loaves of bread a week and I’ve taken to foraging for wild mushrooms. Buying used is not as much a part of our journey now.
Our work has evolved into mentoring and helping others connect with local food sources and grow their own food. I’ve been working with others to improve backyard chicken ordinances in the region and our church has helped develop a community garden. The best compliments I get on the book are when people tell me it led them to start a vegetable garden or sign up for a CSA with a local farmer.
ST: How important was it to you that your experiment was a family endeavor? Did it help you permanently (and positively) reshape your family culture?
Craig: I think that was probably the key to the whole endeavor. It was a bonding experience that will stay with us for the rest our lives and it helped us see how our everyday lives can be a grand adventure. We learned the invaluable lesson that investing in experiences together is more important than buying stuff for each other. Our rules broke us free from the realm of “reasonable” choices. It was exhilarating to discover a whole new world of options of how to shape our consumer lives.
ST: Tell me about your involvement with your church’s farmers market and community garden. How has being a farmer’s market manager complimented your work as a pastor? How do these initiatives fit into the overall life and mission of your church?
Craig: These efforts grew up out of a visioning process at our church. We were reflecting on Jeremiah’s prophetic call in chapter 29 for a people in exile to settle down in the place God has called them, “to seek the welfare of the city” knowing that in pursuing the common good, we would hit our stride as a community of faith. I like to say that a conversation about how to revitalize and renew a congregation has become a conversation about revitalizing a whole neighborhood and community.
Things like the farmers’ market and the community garden are bridges to the community that close the gap between us and our neighbors, but they also help interpret to our neighbors who we are as we seek to live out the gospel.
Every day 30,000 cars drive by a formerly abandoned lot that has now become a beautiful garden — an expression of redemption, provision, and shared commitments. Every week during the summer the parking lot is transformed into a little modern day agora, where our neighborhood gathers around the values of justice, love of neighbor, and value of place. These have become provocative places where the gospel and the community are in conversation.
These food initiatives have also become important acts of justice and peace in the mix of our mission commitments. Between the farmers’ market, the community garden, and our monthly food distribution we’ve delivered over 500,000 pounds of fruits and vegetables to the community.
For me as a pastor, managing the market has forced me to take the time to be with our neighbors and to learn their stories. I call it my Wednesday congregation. It helps get me out of the church bubble.
ST: Your year long journey that you describe in your book centers around the issue of consumerism as a cultural force and how it had shaped your life- and in turn how you and your family chose to be free of it’s power over you. Would you say consumerism had become an idol in your life? Do you think consumerism is an idol in the American church? If so- what can be done to unravel its power in our lives and in our church communities?
Craig: Idol is not the word that comes to mind for me in the sense that we found ourselves worshiping at the feet of consumerism. I think of it more like a colonizing force or an invasive growth of ivy that chokes our imagination. Jesus’ parable of the seeds and soils is helpful for framing the problem with consumerism in our family and, more broadly, in the church. We are like the soil crowded with a tangle of consumerist weeds and thorns, producing green plants but these confined conditions limit the fruitfulness of our endeavors.
Sticking with the gardening metaphor, there are short-term solutions to a garden plot overgrown with weeds. A heavy dose of Roundup and Miracle Grow will do wonders in the short-term but will degrade the health of soil over time and leave things worse than when you started. There are no quick fixes. The best solution to a crowded garden is diligent and knowledgeable cultivation of the soil season after season; on hands and knees, day after day, plucking weeds before they go to seed, rotating crops, composting, working with a place long enough for healthy rhythms to prevail.
In the same way I think our families and church communities need to let go of quick fix programs, that often draw on the consumer model, and commit to the long process of tending to the places and neighborhoods we are called to serve.
ST: You seem to quote Wendell Berry (one of our favorites!) quite often throughout the book. How has Berry’s writings informed the way you think about and live out your Christian faith? Why is he a voice that Christians should be paying attention to?
Craig: The reviewer at Publisher’s Weekly was a little exasperated with my generous quoting of Berry. In my defense, the reviewer couldn’t help but quote Berry in explaining that I quoted Berry too much. I think of Wendell Berry like the cowbell in the SNL skit with Christopher Walken and Will Ferrill. In the tradition of the cowbell sketch, all I have to say is, “Guess what? I have a fever and the only prescription is more Wendell Berry.”
I think Berry’s relevance to our current circumstances is multi-faceted. For one, he is a masterful poet and storyteller at a time of disorientation in the church, when we need orienting voices that give us words and pictures to understand our circumstances. Berry has been prescient in his predictions and warnings about the industrial shift in agriculture and its detrimental consequences on the fabric of community life across the country. Most of his well-known writings were crafted decades ago when he was a voice crying out in the wilderness. Today, like a finely crafted wine, his past works have matured and have never been more relevant.
As I mention in the book, Eugene Peterson is the one who introduced me to Berry’s writing. Whenever Berry uses the word “farm,” Peterson says he inserts the word “church” and applies the lessons to pastoring a congregation. I think that’s a helpful approach. I should add that I also think people in the church should read Berry as ones who are concerned about food, agriculture, and land, not just those seeking metaphors for the church.
ST: Talk to me briefly about the dualism you speak of in the book that is so rampant in Christianity. Why do you think we separate the world into spirit and matter, sacred and secular when the Lordship of Jesus and the claim of GOD as Creator is over His entire creation? What can be done to heal this split in our lives and in the life of our church communities?
Craig: My writing about this dualism in the book is very personal. I don’t have it all figured out, but I know that my formation as a Christian subtly reinforced these divides, and an important part of my work right now is to reweave those connections.
It’s been an issue from the beginning of the church as recorded by Paul in his letters and it goes all the way back to the garden where Adam and Eve wrestled with the material reality of eating fruit and the reality of union with God. The most recent variations on the theme owe much of their origin to the modern secular/sacred split.
One of the best things we can do to bridge the divide is to look around our church communities and find something to get involved with that touches the material world. There is nowhere we can turn that God will say, “No need to seek after the kingdom there.” It won’t take much looking in our neighborhoods to find areas to explore that will get our hands dirty in the materiality of a place. These first-hand experiences, along with prayerful refection on the Spirit of God at work, are the best ways to disrupt these divides and build meaningful connections.
ST: Do you see the rising interest in church-based agriculture and Christian agrarianism as a permanent shift or a passing trend?
Craig: There is definitely a growing interest among Christians in the area of agriculture, especially community gardens. It remains to be seen whether it is an enduring shift. There is an interesting development in the environmental movement where people are saying that environmentalism, as a political movement, is dead. Some have responded that the food movement is growing to fill that void. While many churches, especially evangelicals, have had an uneasy relationship with the politics of the environment, I predict that the church may be more receptive to engaging an ascendant food movement that gets at environmental issues from a different perspective.
ST: I liked the way you incorporated your wife’s connection with Thailand into your year of local and homegrown living. That aspect seemed to enrich your journey in a profound way. How did this global element reaffirm what you were trying to accomplish?
Craig: I agree that it was a key aspect of the experiment. One surprising discovery was that our experience of paying close attention to our local community gave us new skills to appreciate and pay attention to the people we encountered in Thailand. Our global vision for peace and justice grew out of our intensely local experiences learning to love our neighbors in Spokane.
ST: I wish we had more time to talk but I’ll end with one final question. How does the missional church conversation intersect with the movement towards local, intentional and sustainable living? How does managing a farmers’ market, raising chickens, buying local, etc. inform a more faithful embodiment of Jesus’ kingdom?
Craig: I appreciated the way Eugene Peterson highlighted the importance of the Incarnation to understanding Christian concern for the environment. Missional theology and approaches to church are helpful ways of getting at the Incarnation.
Alan Roxburgh’s Missional: Joining God in the Neighborhood and Introducing the Missional Church are helpful places to start learning about all things missional.
The lesson I continue to learn is what Paul emphasized to the Colossian church, that “all things” are created, held together, and redeemed in Christ. A vital question for all of us is, “What does a church look like that seeks after the Savior who is redeeming all things?” We’re just trying to figure that out along with everyone else, chickens, farmers, and all.
Follow Craig’s continuing adventures in food, faith and more at his blog: YearOfPlenty.org.
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