Pope Mary and the New Wave of Food Hubs


When I wrote “Pope Mary and the Church of Almighty Good Food,” I thought I was proposing a rather preposterous idea. In my fictional story, the congregation of a church that was closed much against its will decided to turn their property into a sort of food center to grow and process fruits, vegetables, and grains for the neighborhood. But when Susie Sutphin visited us recently (Foodchronicles.net) she told about a closed church, St. George’s Lithuanian Church in Cleveland, Ohio, that was doing very much like what my fictional story described. The people turned their church building and land around it into what they describe as a “food hub” called Community Greenhouse Partners to grow food for the surrounding neighborhood. CGP is the brainchild of Timothy Smith who is its executive director. Can you imagine?

A few days later, Ed Searl, a Unitarian minister in Hinsdale, Illinois who was inspired to base a whole sermon on Pope Mary, gave me one of his annual Gannett Awards for my blog posted here a couple of weeks ago about how farming could increase jobs. (searlsermons.blogspot.com). When I thanked him and mentioned the Cleveland church, he told me of other churches turning themselves into “food hubs” including one in Youngstown, Ohio. He said maybe I was on the “forming edge of wave.”

I get nervous about being part of any new movement except maybe healthy bowel movements, but I confess to feeling very elated about this food hub idea and any part I may have played in it. For some reason, when I write novels that sort of make fun of organized religion, it is organized religion that seems most appreciative. Amazing. Mike Mather, who is pastor of a Methodist church in Indianapolis (www.broadwayumc.org) came to visit me too. He had a message we all need to hear. He and the people in his church are part of the new “food hub” wave, although he didn’t call it that. He just wants to encourage the people in his church to start asserting their food independence. But instead of going the usual route of venturing forth and trying to teach the people how to grow food, Mike decided to ask the parishioners themselves how to go about it. Much to his surprise, he found out that there were plenty of people already gardening and establishing their food independence in the neighborhood. What was lacking was any inclination to organize promotional efforts. Most gardeners and farmers do not really like to face the public. We are rather private people by nature and feel very ill at ease in public. (I think that is why communicating with each other on blog sites appeals to us— it is a way to be private and public at the same time.) So Mike and his church leaders took on the job of publicity and promotion. The gardeners stepped up and handled the rest.

I think there is a lesson here for all of us visionaries of a food hub future. Many people imbued with the missionary spirit ask me how I would go about converting more of society to food independence. They want to go into the schools and other institutions and teach gardening skills. Going this route is okay, but you generally find yourself dealing with idealists or first fervor types who like to talk about producing their own food but who have no idea of how much hard work is involved.

Instead, follow Mike Mather’s example. Go out and acquaint yourself with the people who are already gardening and farming because they love it. Help them find more land or empty lots. Get city officials to find a place where they can have a public market. If you are a large scale farmer and want to get involved, donate an acre or two to the cause.  Start supporting politicians who want to help the food hub idea, like Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown who hosted a meeting at CGP recently. Do all that legal beagle work that gardeners and farmers have no taste or talent for.

One thing I am sure of, even if I am somewhat of a heathen. If you get organized religion behind the idea that we can no longer let the likes of Monsanto produce our food for us, we’ll take a giant leap forward.


My parents-in-law were part of a church garden that has been going on for a couple years now. The church is Tyrone Covenant Presbyterian in Tyron Michigan, and they have a bit of wooded and meadowy acreage that surrounds the actual building and parking lot. When the economy went south in a bad way in that state, a little earlier and harder than the rest of the country, the church put together a half acre garden for people who couldn’t garden at home or otherwise needed food. It has since expanded to one acre and seems to be very popular.

My parents-in-law were (until recently) almost wholely living off of what they grew in their plot of the garden. The folks who tend the garden there put any extra produce in a bin at the entrance to the church so other families who don’t have the time or wherewithall to garden can grab some free veggies after service.

Here in California myself and my husband are Missouri Synod Lutherans (that’s old school Lutheran–we are definately abberations amongst our hip, progressive city neighbors). Our church is in a midtown/downtown area, but in the tiny parking lot there are two 3’x6′ raised beds that grow tomatoes, kale, chard, pole beans and whatever else they can fit into them. There was even a tiny bit of corn once, until some idiot running from the cops jumped over the wall and landed on it. The sextant (guy who keeps the grounds up) uses a lot of the food, but he shares a lot of it too. It’s awfully nice in the summer to wander out of church and grab a few sun-warmed tomatoes to eat on the walk home.

I suppose it makes sense for churches and gardens to meet up–after all, what better place to practice resurrection than a garden?

Hi Gene,

Just did a blog post about the consolidation of my family’s rural parish church in Minnesota. You can link to it here: http://rosemarywashington.wordpress.com. It’s the post for Nov 2, 2011. A week’s worth of earlier posts talk about my family’s farm, which is a “Century” farm. My 92-year-old Dad still lives there.

‘Give us this day our daily bread’ comes very high on His prayer list as was His concern of feeding people.

100% inspirational action Community of St George’s as is gene’s comment “If you get organized religion behind the idea that we can no longer let the likes of Monsanto produce our food for us, we’ll take a giant leap forward”.

Amen to that Gene!!

Why just a food hub-why not a community skills and talent hub…

What took my fancy in this blog Gene was the very prescient statement that most gardeners and farmers are rather private people. How so true!

I don’t know about the rest of you but to me my land is my sanctuary if you like from the wild winds of civilisation whooshing past my gate; and I don’t give a damn. To me they (others) are like those who have caught the wrong bus but don’t know it yet and probably won’t until it frenetically reaches the end of that scheduled route.

I am quite happy to stand up in front of crowds and talk about what I/we do but at heart I would rather have my hands in the soil and talk to my plants and trees; not that they listen much! Funnily enough it doesn’t really matter either but it certainly gives me great pleasure and I know that I am ultimately doing something that is in tune with Nature and myself.


“first fervor types”!

Is that original? I love succinct phrasing with broad meaning. The implications of it in relation to food speak to the same problems that arise in religion, i.e., the great desire to speak with absolute certainty about our convictions. As I get older my sight keeps changing. A few things have become clearer while many other things have become much less defined. Maybe one of the reasons that some of your seeming criticisms of religion in general and Christianity in particular have been well received is that true faith requires true humility and the willingness to listen. Being told what I should do is usually easier to dismiss than someone telling me what they have found helpful.

As the author of Holy Shit, many would consider you highly qualified to spearhead the good bowel movement movement. Just remember to stay humble.

Amen, Brother Gene. This is the only religious movement I can think of that has come along in recent years (Decades?) that I can get behind.

I would really love it if some of the churches here in the Deep South could get behind a movement like this. How ’boutcha Southerners?

10 square inches of decapitated soda bottle, a handful of earth, a seed, and organically purified NPK fertilizer Plus a south facing windowsill will foster a vegetable, which during its growth will warm the heart, filter the air and consume CO2 within the home. Oxygenate your house. It works well in ten months of the year, and in the summer can thrive out-of-doors in the front lawn as ranks of plants passing in review. At suppertime we pick one of the plants as table decoration and enjoy an edible houseplant, choosing exterior leaves for a salad.

Takes a mnth to 47 days for superb lettuce, a little longer for Swiss Chard.

I would highly recommend the ultimate organic, 20:1 pee as a fertilizer over the of artificial fossil fuel chemical kind, as pee is recycled nutrient which had been run through the body which acts as a filter to segregate and store strontium 90 and DDT of old, and whatsoever newer poisons come our way, which we can lock up, in our fats and bones.

Have you not noticed that there were no flush toilet in the Garden of Eden? Was God careless or deliberate?

Once we have rendered Pee purified, why are we horrified? Now most of us flush it away, to rivers and onward to the seas along with corn field run-offs and industrial wastes, where the Mississippee now has created a dead zone in the Gulf the size of Massachusetts.

Whales, I hear, lack the ability to spit. So too, lobsters, clams, salmon et al.

Let our kids or grand-kids marvel at life on their bedroom windowsills, just making sure it isn’t a funny narcotic weed.

Decorate the altar on Sunday morning?

What an interesting idea. Incorporating the gathering of food where people are already used to gathering.

Bravo, Gene! Although I am no fan of organized religion in general (too many of them are convinced they know better how I should live my life than I do, irreverent and contrary soul that I am), there is no question that the organizational aspect is something religion is good at. Of course, that’s why they tend to turn into massive bureaucracies at many levels, but I digress… There are plenty of people too busy doing things to spare the time for organizing activities such as the ones you mention, but it’s a natural role for the church, and a lot healthier than bake sales, which — although delicious — are not a good food resource on a day-to-day basis. And boy, would I love to see organized religion face off with Monsanto. Sounds like a whole new take on the Crusades!

Please leave your comments...

Name and email address are required. Your email address will not be published.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

You may use these HTML tags and attributes:

<a href="" title="" rel=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <pre> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>