“We thought ‘is it possible for us to get together and talk gracefully, peacefully together about such difficult, conflicting issues?”
– BRUCE DUGGAN, LEAD CO-ORDINATOR FOR EVENT
Some Christians run agribusinesses. Some volunteer in community gardens. Some say modern agricultural technology will feed humanity. Others are saying it’s bringing the family farm to its knees.
The huge diversity of views on these issues – and the conflict it creates even among Christians – is what prompted Providence College and Seminary this month to host a two-day conference on food and the environment.
Providence is a Christian academic community of evangelical tradition at Otterburne.
Christians care intensely about these matters, yet don’t always see eye to eye on these issues, said Bruce Duggan, associate professor of management at Providence.
“Virtually, everything about food is controversial,” he said. “Biofuels, GMO, family farms, 100-Mile Diet, you name it. It’s controversial. So we thought ‘is it possible for us to get together and talk gracefully, peacefully together about such difficult, conflicting issues?”
That premise attracted more than 130 to Otterburne, including farmers, aid workers and students earlier this month to participate in the Take and Eat conference on food and creation care. The conference was jointly hosted between Providence at Otterburne and the Canadian Mennonite University (CMU) in Winnipeg.
It was designed for Christians to better understand their responsibilities, both to God and creation, Duggan said, and to think about practical ways to reflect their beliefs and values.
Round table sessions featured speakers representing agricultural and food businesses, food aid programs, the family farm and clergy.
Agriculture seems to headed down two distinct paths, one in the direction of biological engineering and the other towards a more ecological approach, said moderator Stu Clark, in opening remarks on a round table discussion on producing food.
Don Kroeker, vice-chair and director at Kroeker Farms who spoke at the session, said he thinks there’s an “in between approach” too. Farmers are called upon to pursue those approaches and produce nutritious food to meet the needs of the world, he said. “Food is a basic need. God is pleased when we work to supply it.”
He added that he thinks society will eventually be more accepting of agricultural practices such as genetic engineering, enabling the world’s farmers to expand food production. “The biggest challenge in producing food is, in my opinion, our relationships with people,” he said.
But Jan McIntyre, a farmer at Clearwater, who spoke at the same session as Kroeker, said she’s troubled by the direction modern agriculture is taking and wonders who may be left farming. Big agriculture is pushing out farmers and emptying rural communities, she said.
“There are fewer families on farms and fewer people on the land,” she said. McIntyre said her Christian beliefs also prompt her family to farm in ways beneficial, rather than detrimental to soil, water quality, wildlife habitat and rural communities. “As a Christian I believe that those non-monetary elements are important,” she said.
The conference featured seven speakers in all, including Len Penner, president of Cargill Ltd., Cathy Campbell, rector of St. Matthew’s Anglican Church, Will Braun, editor of Geez magazine, Tabitha Langel, co-owner of Tall Grass Prairie Bread Company in Winnipeg and academics, Loren and Mary Ruth Wilkinson, who teach philosophy and literature respectively at Regents College in Vancouver.
Workshops explored the social consequences of meat eating, how to make small lifestyle changes to reduce depletion of resources and the growing interest in organic food.
Conference participants also visited the Pembina Valley Field Study Centre, set up by A Rocha, a worldwide Christian nature conservation organization, a ranch near Morden using multiple conservation practices, and community gardens developed in Winnipeg’s inner city.
Carman resident Evelyn Rempel Petkau, who attended the conference and whose own Christian faith last year prompted her to pledge to eat the 100-Mile Diet, said it was intriguing to hear these different perspectives brought to the table this way. It was a dialogue unlike anything she’s heard before, she said.
“It made things less black and white, I think,” she said.