Memphis Backyard Farmer

Review of “Year of Plenty” by Craig Goodwin
April 22, 2011, 8:22 am
Filed under: Reviews

I connected with Year of Plenty author Craig Goodwin first via Twitter (@craiggoodwin). Craig is a Presbyterian minister in Washington State with a passion for local food, gardening, food preservation, Jesus and a passion for how all those things fit together.

Year of Plenty is a book about his family’s journey growing food, consuming thoughtfully, eating locally, and being in relationship with the people who produce what goes on their table. From the jacket: “In 2008, 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.”

If you’re like me, you’re probably thinking, “Sounds a lot like Animal, Vegetable, Miracle” (by Barbara Kingsolver). True, there are several situations that indeed seem to come from the same place as Kingsolver’s: local food vs. food imported from across the globe, how animals in the food chain are treated, gardening, raising chickens, etc. Thankfully, though, Craig answers this critique right out of the gate; “Does the world really need another book about one family’s year-long consumption experiment?” he asks. The answer, he says, is that this book is about a theology of plenty, that followers of Jesus have something unique to offer the consumer/green conversation.

Goodwin weaves into his stories the way his theology informs his family’s consumer decision-making processes. Instead of this being an environmental crusade, it’s largely a relational crusade. After all, in Christian theology, we love our neighbor as ourselves. How does what we eat affect the person who grows the food? Are they getting a living wage? What are they struggling with?  Is the local farmer being cheated somehow by a middle-man, grocery chain, or seed company? After meeting a particular squash farmer, we see the Goodwin family sitting down to say “grace” for the meal, which then turns to asking God’s grace on this farmer, his fields, and his crops.

We also see how Craig’s belief that all of creation belongs to God, and is being redeemed by, and through, Jesus, impacts decisions of creation care. How we treat the land is a direct reflection of what we believe about how God loves the land, and His desire for ultimate redemption.

Woven throughout he has gentle critique for the Church and how it has been a part of the consumer culture of America. Not just that we consume without thinking, but that we often think of our neighbors as merely “consumers” and turn to consumer marketing strategies to generate demand for our product. As a former member of a church staff, the temptation to “market” to communities is enticing. But instead, Craig tells us, “The greatest gift the church has to offer its neighbors is to recognize them as something other than consumers. In a world where everyone is constantly reduced to objects, the church ought to be a refreshingly humanizing force. The story of the church is to envision people as beloved children of God who are irreducible.”

For those of you who are not of any faith persuasion, there is plenty of good storytelling here. I couldn’t help but laugh at situations he and his family found themselves in as they ripped out their yard to create a vegetable garden. I’ve felt those same stares from my neighbors as I built raised beds in conspicuous places throughout my yard.

But my favorite chapter by far was chapter 11, “Green Christians”, where Craig more fully fleshes out how his new lifestyle is shaped by his theology. In this new age of “green”, it’s good to hear someone fully articulate why they eat what they eat, why they grow what they grow, why they buy what they buy. A complete connection between head, heart, hands, spirit and then pocketbook is rare. But then to have those connections explained from a Christian can be valuable for those of our number who have not yet made the connection between God’s creation, Jesus’ redemption and our participation. “We are created, not creator and our recognition of that makes all the difference. It opens up the possibility for us to participate in the grand story of God’s saving work in the world, which includes decisions about money and even personal-care products but does not presume that these choices give us the power to save the world.” (p. 159)

Well said.

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