Written by Daniel Hazard
Illinois church rediscovers food's primary source - down on the farm
Ever wondered where goat cheese comes from?
If so, perhaps you're needing to rediscover the real source of what you're eating.
That was the case in June when more than 100 members and friends of Community UCC in Champaign, Ill., were hosted by Prairie Fruits Farm, just north of nearby Urbana, for a "feast fit for a church," as organizers described it.
"One really wonderful thing about the feast was that it put all of us directly in contact with the source of some of what we ate that day," said church member Jeanne Ward. "We know that the cheese we smeared across bread and the cheesecake we ate for dessert came from the very goats we were petting."
The outing included strawberry picking, tours of the farm, goat petting, and organic and local food from area farms, including Prairie Farm's specialty: goat-cheese cheesecake ala strawberries.
The Rev. Mike Mulberry, one of the church's pastors, said members envisioned the event as more than fellowship, but also as mission and education.
In 2004, Community UCC began buying Community Supported Agriculture "shares" or "CSAs" from Prairieland Community Supported Agriculture in Watseka, Ill., as a way to support local social service agencies.
The congregation also engaged in a study of the UCC-produced documentary, "Strong Roots, Fragile Farms" and a curriculum called "Just Eating? Practicing Our Faith at the Table."
Pat Syoen, who participated in the church discussions, said the process changed her life.
"The 'Just Eating' curriculum has made me aware of our need to support our local farmers, especially the ones who do organic farming," Syoen said. "It has also changed my own cooking habits like preparing 'slow food' versus using a lot of the prepared foods you find in the grocery stores."
Syoen, along with others, led the congregation through a communion service that included locally and organically grown strawberries, fair-trade chocolate drink and homemade flatbread.
Mulberry said the church is committed to mission with local food systems.
"I think the study and reflection we have done has helped us, it's helped me, to realize that buying organic must be accompanied by buying local," Mulberry said. "Wal-Mart is the largest distributor of organic food in the United States, but their food is bathed in the oil it takes to get that food to market. So we hope, by little steps, our church is building a just, alternative food system."
Church member Susan Schnuer believes there's a spiritual aspect to eating - and shopping.
"Eating food that is produced locally is the first step in a path that teaches us to appreciate what is grown locally, something that is easy to forget as you push your cart down the aisle of the local grocery store."
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