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At the intersection of food and faith

Jesse Pizzitola of Firstlight Farm in Petaluma sells produce at the Petaluma Eastside Farmers Market.

Matt Brown/ For the Argus-Courier
Published: Friday, April 19, 2013 at 8:00 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, April 18, 2013 at 11:56 a.m.

Nathan Boone, a farmer at Petaluma's First Light Farm, feels a spiritual connection to the produce he grows and is hoping local religious organizations will get involved and experience that connection too.

Daniel Green, priest-in-charge at St. John's Episcopal church, believes that working with food can enrich faith and is looking for ways his congregation can support local agriculture.

The two converged at a conference on local food and faith, the first of its kind in California according to the organizers, held recently at Lucchesi Park.

The conference, produced by a local organization called the Interfaith Sustainable Food Collaborative, drew about 75 people — Christians, Buddhists, Muslims and Jews among them — from around Sonoma County and as far away as Oregon.

Based in part on programs in Oregon and North Carolina, it sought to bring farmers and religious leaders together to talk about how “congregations can put their faith values into practice by supporting sustainable and local food systems.”

That's according to the event's organizer, Steve Schwartz, who believes feeding the soul and the belly are closely connected and that religious organizations can help propel the local food movement forward in the same way they helped the civil rights movement gain traction decades ago.

For Boone, a practising Sufi who was raised methodist, faith and farming go hand-in-hand. With business partner Jesse Pizzitola, he farms about 20 acres of land leased in Petaluma and Valley Ford using a Community Supported Agriculture, or CSA model. Individuals or families essentially subscribe to a farm, paying an advance fee in exchange for the regular delivery of boxes full of fresh produce.

Now, the pair hopes to find a local congregation — of any faith — to join First Light's CSA.

“The way a CSA works, you're looking for people who support your values,” Boone said. “We put love in the food, love in the soil, and we're hoping for people to connect with us (in that effort), and enjoy the abundance that comes from the farm.”

Boone added that working with local churches is a great way for his farm to get to know and connect with the community.

It can also make his job a bit easier.

CSAs often require drop-off points, where a number of members can go to pick up their produce without having to travel all the way to the farm. When a group like a school or church joins a CSA, finding a common drop-off place becomes simple, saving the farmer time and money in distributing the food.

Meanwhile, some local congregations are finding that connecting with local farmers can reinforce their faith.

Daniel Green is priest-in-charge at St. John's Episcopal, which for the last several years has helped run an interfaith food pantry at Elim Lutheran Church.

He said there is “quite a bit of interest” at his church in supporting local food, and that the congregation is currently considering how best to do that.

Among other things, they're considering working with local farms like Petaluma Bounty to provide more fresh produce to food pantries or joining a local CSA.

Green, who was a farmer in Marin County before becoming a pastor, sees local agriculture as a way to connect people to the agrarian traditions of their religions.

“One thing we talked about at the conference was the value of connecting to our religious traditions, whether Muslim, Jewish, Buddhist, or Christian, through the powerful presence of images and language about the land,” he said. “What a potent kind of force it is, not just for social justice and ecological sustainability, but also religious renewal, to make that connection.”

(Contact Jamie Hansen at jamie.hansen@ar guscourier.com)

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