Friday, August 19, 2011

Growing Food and Growing Faith

While most students spend their summers working indoors making money to pay for college, Nina Voli ’13 has been interning at Shalom Farms, an initiative of the United Methodist Urban Ministries of Richmond, Virginia, that addresses the issue of food security in inner-city Richmond.

Shalom Farms grows organic produce that is shared among various partners in the city who are working to increase access to nutritious foods in low-income urban areas. They also work to educate youth, churches and communities about justice in the food system.

Nina, a linguistics major with an interest in sustainable community development, has spent most of her summer working on the farm itself, learning about sustainable agriculture and food production. “In the process of pulling weeds, digging potatoes and planting cucumber seeds, I’ve gained a better understanding of how food is grown,” says Nina. “But more importantly, I’ve been able to see that the ways in which we grow, distribute, and even eat food all have deeply theological implications.” Nina has also spent time in the city, meeting local partners and encouraging the work they are doing in the communities they serve. She has led and participated in small groups and discussions at local churches on these issues. Her internship this summer fulfilled a requirement of the Elijah Project honors program she participates in.

When asked why she decided to spend her summer working on a farm, Nina explains that she’s become more aware of environmental degradation and how it’s tied to issues of social justice. “I saw Shalom Farms as an organization that recognizes that connection and believes that caring for creation and loving our neighbor go hand in hand.”

The biggest challenge for Nina was viewing her work and the work of Shalom Farms in light of great need and complex problems. “The reality is that at the end of the day, places with limited food access still exist, and most people still remain comfortably distant from their hungry neighbors and from the sources of their food. But it’s important to pay attention to the differences being made over time—both big and small—and to celebrate them.

“The thing I’ve enjoyed most was getting close to the earth—digging my hands into it and remembering that I am a part of it; enjoying a tomato from a plant I watched grow; or witnessing a thunderstorm from beneath a small tent. Life becomes so much more real, and begins to make much more sense the more we get to know nature.”

Nina’s work caused her to ask more questions as she tries to figure out how God is leading her future. “Why is the Church not addressing—but in many ways encouraging—the divide between what we believe and how we live in the world? Truly, we are in need of deeper connections—to one another, to God, to the earth, to our place. This concern has led me to consider divinity school after college to further explore the role of theology in waking up the Church to these things.”

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