SASKATOON — The work of Farmland Legacies — which includes providing sustainably raised, high-quality beef to Saskatchewan food banks — was highlighted at a recent Administration Day in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Saskatoon.
At the gathering of parish and ministry leaders Sept. 10 at the Cathedral of the Holy Family, Duane Guina, executive director of the non-profit organization based on a farm in the Wynyard area, spoke about the importance of sustainable agriculture and just food systems, as well as relating the history of Farmland Legacies and the impact of the Legacy of One project.
“As soon as we have accepted the right to life, well what sustains life? First of all, it is food. ‘For I was hungry and you gave me food’ — that’s a basic Catholic social teaching,” said Guina.
“In his recent encyclical, Laudato Si’, Pope Francis made the connection between current agricultural practices, such as water contamination and deforestation, but also to unjust structures in the food system, which can be unfairly stacked against the interests of rural communities and the common good,” said Guina. “In each instance, farming was examined through a moral lens, with the well-being of the human person as the focal point, and then the well-being of the planet running a close second.”
Started by the Catholic bishops of Saskatchewan back in 1998 as a response to the agricultural crisis that was happening in the province at the time, Farmland Legacies holds farmland in trust, links land with farmers and works with other organizations to promote and communicate sustainable values and practices, which also enhance community life. The non-profit organization envisions “a healthy mix of farms and food,” in a landscape with balanced soils and healthy ecosystems, that is home to farmers of all ages, with diverse farm interests, and with market influence shared by many.
“How we farm has a considerable impact on everything around us, from human nutrition and opportunities for fulfilling work, to the well-being of our waters and forests and ecosystems,” Guina said. “This vocational approach to agriculture carries with it a certain responsibility and gravity, but it is also incredibly life-giving and fulfilling.”
Guina then pointed to a project related to poverty and those using food banks and the Friendship Inn. As part of this Legacy of One program, donors contribute funds to Farmland Legacies that go toward raising quality beef to provide a much-needed source of protein to Saskatchewan food banks, which are serving some 10,000 people a month.
“Good quality protein, such as something like a basic hamburger that most of us take for granted, seldom arrives in those food hamper baskets that go out to people,” he said.
“For as little as $1 a serving we can provide top-quality, grass-fed, finished beef off of our farm,” he said. “It skips a lot of middle people in the process, and shortens the distance from farm to table, which is also good for the environment.”
A family business in small-town Saskatchewan processes the meat raised for the program. “It is provincially inspected, it is a safe, high quality product,” Guina described.
The Legacy of One program is based on the principal that everybody can do a little, Guina said. “Everybody has the power to make a difference, no matter how small. And together many small things make big things possible.”
Launched in the fall of 2014, the program has now delivered 20,000 servings of beef to Saskatchewan food banks. “This year we hope to do 30,000, and we are hoping for 50,000 next year, and the year after that 100,000 — and that, believe me, would still not put a serving of protein on everyone’s plate,” he said. “It is staggering when we look at what poverty and hunger is around our province.”
It takes time to produce a serving of good, high-quality beef, he noted. “It’s nearly a three-year process. So it is critical to us to get that support ahead of time.”
Over 50 animals were born this year, but if the program does not acquire sponsorship for them, in time the animals will not be able to be held back for the project. “It will be as fast as the Spirit lets it unfold,” said Guina, describing the effort as “grassroots faith in action.”
Farmland Legacies is one way that the Christian call to care for the poor and for creation is being lived out in our diocese, pointed out Myron Rogal, co-ordinator of the diocesan Office of Justice and Peace.
In conjunction with Guina’s presentation, Rogal provided an overview of the recent Laudato Si’ encyclical by Pope Francis on care for our common home. “The spirit in which this was written is one of dialogue, an entry point for Catholics into the discussion and it is a reminder that we do live in a small world after all,” said Rogal. “Caring for the environment is no longer optional for people of faith.”
A movement from independence to interconnectedness and inter-dependence with all of creation is one theme of the new encyclical, he noted.
“Pope Francis references Pope Benedict XVI in saying that every economic choice has a moral consequence,” said Rogal. “When we are looking at our lives, we can no longer compartmentalize.”
It is a call to be set free from materialistic tendencies and consumerism. “This is calling us to our true nature of authentic human freedom.” One of the unique features of the encyclical is how it questions the concept of economic growth, Rogal noted. “Is growth always a good thing?”
Rogal quoted a statement from Robert F. Kennedy that came up in a recent Jesuit review of the papal encyclical: “the Gross National Product does not allow for the health of our children, the quality of their education or the joy of their play. It does not include the beauty of our poetry or the strength of our marriages, the intelligence of our public debate or the integrity of our public officials. It measures neither our wit nor our courage, neither our wisdom nor our learning, neither our compassion nor our devotion to our country. It measures everything, in short, except that which makes life worthwhile.”
The new papal encyclical has a sense of urgency, and quotes others broadly, including international accords, research papers, and individuals from other faith traditions, Rogal pointed out. Over and over again, Laudato Si’ stresses that poverty and the environment are intrinsically connected, he said. “Without focusing our attention on both of those issues, we won’t find a solution to either.”
Development must not happen “at the cost of destroying human dignity or the planet” and the developed world must bear responsibility for the damage that has been done, according to the encyclical, Rogal described. “We have a great social debt toward the poor.”
Another theme of Laudato Si’ is an emphasis on human ecology, with the document stating, “The natural environment is a collective good, the patrimony of all humanity, and the responsibility of everyone. If we make something our own, it is only to administer it for the good of all.”
The document calls for dialogue and more discussion of environmental issues and care for the poor at every level of society and in our churches as well, said Rogal. “We are always effective when we generate process rather than holding on to positions of power.”
Practical calls for action also come out of the encyclical — calls to act with subsidiarity, examine our purchasing and consuming patterns, and work politically to effect change.
No economic solution alone will solve the degradation that has happened to the planet, according to Pope Francis. “It is naïve to think we can rely on economics to solve these problems,” Rogal said, describing the spiritual conversion that the pontiff says is needed to heal our world. “The encyclical is a call to wake us out of our indifferent slumber,” and a call for a “Sabbath time” where God can come and re-create humanity and the planet.
There is a call to “fall in love” with the planet and the poor people of the earth, Rogal said. “How are we constantly putting these two ahead of ourselves?”
The overall call to action in the document is “to read it, to learn it, to live it and to love it,” Rogal concluded.
Administration Day also included the launch of the 2015 Bishop’s Annual Appeal, and a number of presentations about ministries, programs and upcoming events in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Saskatoon.