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Growing Climate Justice

April 1, 2017 

How do you choose where to eat? Is it novelty, or the taste of the food? Do you choose convenience? Or do you consider where your food comes from? Perhaps you value food that is sourced from local farmers and grown without pesticides. Perhaps you try and avoid GMOs. You might want to support a transparent, just, sustainable food system. Or maybe you care most to know that the animals are humanely raised. You might seek food that is seasonal, made by hand, and beautifully presented. Or you might just like the community that dines in such places.

Now imagine another food choice. You need to get groceries, and when you get to the market, there are just two tables. At the first table sits bright and bubbly Farmer Mary, who smiles and waves you over. Her table is covered in an abundant array of winter produce, eggs, chicken and beef, cow’s milk cheese, pickles, and breads – all grown, raised and produced on Mary’s farm. You gather enough for a week’s worth of food, and she asks for $80 in return. That seems like a lot.

You turn to the other table, and a huge man in a dark suit gives you an almost imperceptible nod. His table is empty and behind him you notice a shiny steel wall with a massive metal door. He opens the door and you see rows and rows of perfectly ripe tomatoes, strawberries and pineapples. There is an endless assortment of meats, fish and seafood, plus yogurt, butter and milk from cows, sheep AND goats. It looks like there’s a full sushi bar in there too. But, what’s that smell? He notices you pause, and waves you forward, enticing you with pre-made heat-and-eat meals, every flavor of smoothie and sweet treats. It would be so quick and easy to do all your shopping right there and just as you decide to take a look you hear the faint sound of a tortured cow’s moo. And that smell is getting stronger as it wafts over you. The man sees your shudder and grows impatient. You feel pressured to go inside. What do you do?

Do you shop in the hidden wonderland of infinite availability wearing the blinders of convenience? Or do you choose the basket of locally-grown produce, meats & cheeses, and then go investigate the stink, the sounds and the silence of the man in front of the steel wall? A bit of scrutinizing, and you’re sure to find a great big manure lagoon. And water pollution, soil erosion, nutritionally deficient animals and produce, huge amounts of methane entering the atmosphere -- and suddenly, you’ve entered the tangled web where climate change and the food system intersect. Agriculture is a major contributing factor in climate change, and the impacts of deforestation for cattle, massive mono-crop farms, greenhouse gases from fertilizers, etc. are rampant. Around the globe we see melting ice caps, species loss, drought, floods, famine and massive refugee flows while here at home we have 60 degree days in January, failed apple crops and black rot in our farmers’ fields, all due to such weird weather patterns.

These costs of climate change are high and will only continue to rise as more carbon dioxide enters the atmosphere. That these costs are disproportionately borne by society’s most vulnerable populations puts climate justice front and center. There is both an urgency to act, and much to gain through action. That’s why we at the Birchwood have partnered with MN350 and Minnesota Interfaith Power & Light (MNIPL) through our BOOST program to act now for climate justice. We have seen the horror stories on the news and increasingly, in our own backyards. We acknowledge that the food movement, the climate movement and the social justice movement are all one. And we come together to celebrate our differences, our unique interests and skills, our resources and our passions – working to build an empowered social movement that collectively acts to address the climate crisis.

How can we build this movement? Both MN350 and MNIPL focus on relational organizing – the recognition that it’s the people and their work that actually matter. The rallies and petitions are important, but it’s when we tap into work that makes us feel alive, or when we see someone showing up in the community that we start to care on a deeper level. When you actually know Farmer Mary, you’ve volunteered at her farm and she saved that pint of sun-ripened strawberries just for you – that’s when you support her above any convenience, and happily pay $80 for your groceries. You know you are paying for transparency and authenticity, as well as good food. You can literally see and feel the impact of your choice on your health, the environment, and the farm workers that bring us those berries.

Whether you care about cows, oil, food, culture or the environment, whether you are passionate about writing, public speaking, art or law – there is a place for you in making the world a better place. We shut down when we are overwhelmed with choices and catastrophes but by taking a cue from our partners, we can overcome that complacency with specific, values-driven actions. We can create a fundamental shift in mindset and begin to see the people and the relationships that drive our decisions. Greater understanding of the consequences of our food choices can support long-term decisions that benefit ALL over short-term financial gain.

From April through June, we will be hosting a series of climate-related events in collaboration with MN350 and MNIPL. Together, we will rally for the upcoming climate marches in Minnesota and Washington, DC. We’ll share how regenerative agriculture can address climate change, food security and health, of individuals and the planet. We’ll engage in a series of climate conversations, designed to encourage honest dialogue about what’s happening in our communities, and what we can actually do about it. MN350 approaches climate from a scientific view: reduce the carbon pollution in the atmosphere to 350 ppm to maintain a livable planet. MNIPL works with faith communities to build transformative power, and bring the lights of people’s unique gifts to address the climate crisis. Wherever your heart lies on the faith–science spectrum, we invite you to participate and to draw on communal sources of resilience and inspiration. It’s with small, practical steps that we can make powerful change. By connecting with our community and making concrete, impactful steps in the climate movement, we can bring a shared vision of social, economic and environmental justice to reality.