Editor’s Note: The phrase “just transition” is part of the growing lexicon on the shift from a fossil fuel economy to clean energy. But the meaning of this sentence varies. The term can also mean the need for a just transition to new jobs for people employed in industries such as mining. Catholic sisters are involved across the spectrum of transition efforts.
Although they differ in size, location, and what they grow, sister-run farms across the United States share sustainable approaches to farming, whether it’s a commitment to organic practices, to promote locally grown foods purchased by member shareholders or to provide products to those in need.
Exact numbers are hard to come by, said Sr. Miriam MacGillis of the Dominican Sisters of Caldwell, New Jersey and director of Genesis Farm in Blairstown, New Jersey, and recognized by her peers as one of the early leaders of sisters concerned with agriculture and environmental concerns.
MacGillis told GSR that she is aware of at least 32 farms, gardens or ecological centers that have their roots in educational seminars held at Genesis.
For the Seton Harvest farm in southwest Indiana, producing and sharing with those in need of food is a point of pride: In 2020, the farm harvested 29,056 pounds of produce, the farm said. , of which about a sixth – over 5,300 pounds – was donated to the local population. groups such as pantries. “A portion of each week’s harvest goes directly to around a dozen different charities serving the poor and hungry,” the farm says on its website.
The Sisters of Sr. Francis say the Michaela farm in southeast Indiana takes its name from Sr. Michaela Lindemann, one of the first members of the congregation “who began to lead the work on the land. then newly acquired in 1854 ”. The farm, which runs a community-supported agriculture program, or CSA, merges “agriculture, education and spirituality” and “builds and embodies the Franciscan value of“ right relationships with all creation ”. “
In Kentucky, the Ursuline Sisters of Mont Saint-Joseph in Kentucky operate a working farm with an educational component, where local students who study farm management conduct experiments and studies. They learn good farm management techniques, such as organic farming – no pesticides used on orchard trees, for example – raising grass-fed cows, no-till planting and crop rotation.
Another is the 10 acres Monocacy Farm Project in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, owned and operated by the Sisters of the Schools of St. Francis, Province of the United States. The farm is on 53 acres owned by the congregation.
The idea for a working farm, located on farmland long owned by the congregation, emerged from the 2011 general chapter of the congregation which, in part, called on the sisters “to take concrete steps to take care of “Our sister, Mother Earth”, “said Sr Bonnie Marie Kleinschuster, the director of the farm and the provincial treasurer of her congregation.
The School Sisters project has evolved to include community gardens, a designated production farm for produce from local soup kitchens, and homeless shelters – about a dozen in all.
The farm once had a community supported agriculture program, or CSA. In 2019, the farm decided to launch an annual “U-pick” or PYO program. “We felt that the PYO could serve a wider range of people,” Kleinschuster said. “It’s much more versatile and affordable for all income levels. Membership is only $ 10 for the season, then members give whatever they can or want and support the mission of the farm. “
In separate emails, Kleinschuster and Eli Stogsdill, the farm’s chief producer, both spoke about the importance that Monocacy and other local farms play in providing an alternative to an agricultural system in which Americans have tend to “secure our food from remote locations,” Kleinschuster said.
“The more we can promote ‘local’, the better off our communities will be,” she said. “We are very dependent on a supply chain” – a fact underscored by the challenges posed by the COVID pandemic.
At the height of the pandemic, Kleinschuster said the farm was able to provide a constant supply of produce to its partners, like pantries and soup kitchens, while continuing the annual PYO program, which has shown an increase substantial number of members. The number of members has increased from nine in 2019 to 82 in 2020. This year, the number has grown to 101 members. “It’s amazing,” Kleinschuster said.
“People in the local community wanted to come to the farm rather than shopping in the grocery aisle,” she said.
“From conversations I’ve had with members, young families in particular, it’s not just about food,” she said. “It’s about knowing where your food comes from, how it’s grown, and teaching children to live sustainably.”
A just transition to sustainability for future generations is a necessity, said Stogsdill.
“Collectively, we are all facing serious ecological crises that are deeply linked to social and economic injustices,” he said. “Our work is a small contribution to growing healthy communities from the ground up.”
It includes a spiritual element, Kleinschuster said. “We relate to all of creation. We are called to stewardship,” she said, adding that “we must do what we can to keep all of creation healthy.”
A lot of good work is being done on these farms and others, MacGillis told GSR. But she fears they will breach a severe global ecological crisis and a dominant corporate farming system that relies on fossil fuels and what she called “industrial approaches to land use.” .
“We live in an unregulated world of toxic chemicals,” she said, adding, “We are at a very critical point as to whether life will continue on this planet.”
MacGillis, extensively described in the 2007 study by scholar Sarah McFarland Taylor Green sisters and who spent a year of private study in 1984 with renowned theologian and environmental thinker Thomas Berry, believes religious institutions are part of the problem.
She argues that institutional structures remain in the grip of a patriarchal system that does not challenge ideas that humans are at the center of creation and that men are superior to women.
“It’s pretty striking,” MacGillis admitted. “But we need rigorous reality checks, especially those of us in religion.”
“It is so late in the day,” she said of the pressing climate crisis and its attendant challenges and pressing ecological concerns. “We must now focus on the state of the planet.”