(This story first appeared in the February issue of the Anglican Journal.)
Jerremie Clyde has a passion for food-for growing it in a way that is healthy for the people who eat it, for the planet and for a just sharing of God-given bounty.
Clyde, who is a librarian and professor at the University of Calgary, said that he and his wife, Rita, a speech pathologist, were already big into gardening and were selling produce at the Hillhurst Sunnyside Farmers’ Market in Calgary, when Rita read Barbara Kingsolver’s book, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle and then books by American journalist and activist Michael Pollan. Those writers led them to think more about the effects of pesticides and fertilizers used in industrial farming, not to mention the greenhouse gases emitted by these products. “That really made us wake up to what we were doing to our own food supply,” he said. “And once you know, there’s no going backwards.”
When they were parishioners at St. Barnabas Anglican Church, the couple began a community garden. From their stall at the farmers’ market, they had seen the potential of a space behind the church, which had a great southern exposure. With the parish’s support, they designed some senior-friendly plots. “Most of them had gardened all their lives, but they couldn’t garden where they’re living now, or couldn’t garden unassisted,” said Clyde.
But the garden was also open to non-parishioners. “I don’t know how well it’s worked as a tool for evangelism,” said Clyde, “but certainly in terms of an awesome garden space and community involvement, that’s worked out really well.” It may also have helped, he said, to change non-Christians’ perceptions that the church’s approach is only about “subduing the earth,” demonstrating that “the relationship God expects Christians to have with the land and creation [is more like] partner and participant.”
Clyde has also given gardening workshops at various Calgary churches. He encourages people to treat gardening as a devotional activity, to look for revelations of God in it.
He recently travelled to the Sorrento Centre in B.C. to make a presentation on sustainable agriculture at a food security conference organized by the Primate’s World Relief and Development Fund (PWRDF). “Jerremie helped our group catch a glimpse of what is possible for everyday folk to engage in, in terms of both growing food and care of creation, be it in their backyards, their parish grounds or their community gardens,” PWRDF’s public engagement program co-ordinator Suzanne Rumsey said.
Although the Clyde family still lives in Calgary, they farm 160 acres near Sundre, Alta. Clyde said he has seen worrying signs of climate change on his farm-such as weeds and insects expanding into new territory. But because the Alberta economy is closely tied to the fossil fuel industry, the topic of climate change is controversial there. Clyde invited Bishop Greg Kerr-Wilson of the diocese of Calgary to talk about the issue while helping harvest the organic rye. With the Rev. Mishka Lysak, an Anglican priest devoted to environmental issues, they decided to start building an ecumenical group focused both on the theology of creation care and current issues. Kerr-Wilson said that Clyde played an important role because of his “willingness to take the small step and do it because it is the practical thing you can do.” As evidenced by Clyde’s farm, he sees value in starting small and building “acre by acre,” said Kerr-Wilson.
About 25 people showed up for the first meeting in early December, and one of the first things they hope to do is to support new Alberta Premier Jim Prentice in his stated goal of phasing out the use of coal.
The Clydes donate about a tenth of their harvest-several hundred pounds of fresh produce-to the local food bank each year, and they have also had some low-income families help on the farm at times. Out there, Clyde says, “there’s no economic divide. You can’t even tell by how people are dressed. Everyone’s just working on the farm, enjoying it together. They all get the same awesome food at the end. God really meant for everyone to have that.”