Mars Hill College is pleased to host “Farming, Food, and Faith: An Interdisciplinary Conversation Examining Social Justice and Agriculture.” The program will take place in Broyhill Chapel at 7 pm, and will feature Dr. Charles Thompson and Dr. Norman Wirzba.
Thompson is the Director of the Undergraduate Program of the Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University. Wirzba is a Research Professor of Theology, Ecology and Rural Life at Duke Divinity School. Although both Thompson and Wirzba are research professors at Duke University, this is the first time they have worked together.
The event is part of the Ramsey Center’s year-long focus on the James G. K. McClure Collection, which documented the work of the Farmers Federation in Western North Carolina from the early days of the Federation in the 20s through its decline in the late 50s. The collection consists of over 3,000 photographs, manuscripts, scrapbooks, publications, and recordings of agricultural life collected by James G. K. McClure in western North Carolina.
Earlier in the evening, Dr. Wirzba will appear alone for “Christian Principles for Creation Care.” Participants are invited to buy their dinner at Pittman Cafeteria and join Dr. Wirzba at 5pm for a presentation which discusses his research and teaching interests at the intersections of theology, philosophy, ecology, and agrarian and environmental studies.
At 9:30 am and a noon, Dr. Thompson will address Mars Hill students about his work, which concentrates on documenting farm workers through photography, film making, oral histories and documentary writing. Contact the Ramsey Center to learn more about these presentations.
All programs are free and open to the public.
A common element in the work of both Thompson and Wirzba is mankind’s relationship with the land. But their diverse areas of study require that they approach the subject from different perspectives.
For Wirzba that relationship is viewed as a spiritual ethic. He has found that many Christians and Christian organizations fail to connect their faith to a sense of stewardship for the earth, he said.
“Christians live in a world that is understood to be the gift of God,” he said. “One thing I hope to do is recover this language of creation for people in churches. People sometimes don’t realize how much creation is an important theme in scripture. Understanding these concepts gets to heart of what it means to be people who are trying to live faithfully in the world.”
Throughout human history, farming has been an essential part of living in harmony with God’s creation, Wirzba said. A concerning aspect of the environmental movement, he said, is its tendency to focus on efforts to preserve wilderness rather than the places where people live.
“I think we’re on this earth to live on it, and to use it, but we have to learn use it in ways that don’t destroy it,” he said. “We need to use it in ways that make it better or increase fertility, ways that keep it beautiful, keep it clean. This is where agriculture is so important because agriculture is precisely that long history of human engagement with the earth. Agriculture is one of the primary means of affecting our planet for better or worse.”
Thompson’s perspective grows from his work at the Center for Documentary Studies at Duke, which focuses on agricultural issues and the laborers within the U.S. food system. In some respects, his documentary work closely resembles the work of James G. K. McClure, who spent so many years documenting the work of Appalachian farmers.
Formerly a farmer himself, Thompson explains that his affinity for farm life runs deep, and began in his childhood. “I come from a family of farmers,” he said. “My own grandfather was probably the most influential person in my life. He was a farmer in the mountains of Virginia. He raised beef cattle, and a garden, and was a logger on the side. I saw that farming was a beautiful life but also a very difficult life to pay the bills with.”
Thompson’s work in many ways combines this interest in farm life with an empathy for social activism because it highlights the plight of Latino farm workers and introduces his students to various avenues for expressing their concern for social justice.
Many of the personal and cultural struggles of Latino people today, Thompson said, are similar to those faced by American farmers in earlier decades. He compares the circumstances driving an outmigration from farm life in Mexico today to a similar outmigration from failing American farms in the 30s and 40s.
“One thing I’ll discuss is why people from Mexico pick your vegetables, why our society is structured the way it is, and why we have such a dearth of farm laborers in our own country,” he said.
Thompson says that due to increasing environmental awareness, recent years have seen an increased desire for education about local food production in environmentally responsible ways. According to Thompson, this comes at a time when fewer people than ever before are living in rural or farm settings.
“How ironic that we had very strong local communities of people who were cooperating and working together on their agricultural development and of course all of those people are gone,” he said. “Now, we’re trying to rebuild that cultural model at a time when there’s a lot of demand but not as much knowledge. All the more reason to point to this local history of agriculture and recognize its importance for where we are headed as a society.”
“Christian Principles for Creation Care,” is sponsored by the Christian Stewardship Listening Project of the Rural Southern Voice for Peace, the Mars Hill College Department of Religion and Philosophy and the college’s Visiting Artists and Lecturers Committee. Those departments and organizations collaborated with the Ramsey Center in presenting “Farming, Food and Faith.”
For more information about any of these programs, please contact Ramsey Center Program Director Amy Carraux, at 828/689-1571.
Mars Hill College is a private, four-year liberal arts institution. Founded in 1856 by Baptist families of the region, the campus is located just 20 minutes north of Asheville in the mountains of western North Carolina. www.mhc.edu 1-866-MHC-4-YOU.Read the full article