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Family and church model sustainable options to promote eating and buying local

The Rev. Craig Goodwin of Millwood Community Presbyterian Church readily describes his family’s 2008 commitment to “eat local” and his church’s commitment to host a farmers’ market in their parking lot.

Craig Goodwin
Craig Goodwin

Speaking at the Food and Faith Forum in November by the Faith and Environment Network of the Inland Northwest, he shared what he has learned about consumption and farmers’ markets as his family and church began connecting faith and food.

Reports on decisions he and his wife Nancy, who is also a pastor at Millwood, and their children Lily, 7, and Noel, 10, made are included in his blog, “Year of Plenty," at

Five years ago, they moved to Spokane from Houston and bought a house with a vegetable garden, harvesting pumpkins, beans and tomatoes the first year.

“I had never planted a seed before, but we enjoyed the garden.  We have expanded it each year and built a greenhouse,” he said.

Their children’s friends like to congregate at their house, going into the garden to feast on fresh carrots, beans and tomatoes.

Craig said a men’s Bible study on James 5 about hoarding wealth, living in luxury and being self indulgent stirred him to ask who, in the web of consumption, the are rich ones who “oppress the harvesters and fatten themselves?”

“It weighed on me,” he said.

Three years ago, the Millwood church and community started a farmers’ market after the North Spokane Farmers’ Market temporarily relocated in Millwood Park. Some in the neighborhood became interested in having a Wednesday farmers’ market, so Craig suggested the church offer its parking lot.

“Something prophetic happened the first day.  David McCullough of Suzie’s and Dave’s Beef told someone that he could do something Costco couldn’t do.  He could name the grandmother of the cow whose meat he was selling,” Craig said.

Seeing a farmers’ market as an alternative to the disconnection of consumer life, he said, church members saw it as a ministry and a way to connect with neighbors. 

“There were bumps along the road, such as recently with the Department of Revenue revoking the church’s nonprofit exempt status for the property used for the market,” he said.  “As people have experienced the market, it has been embraced.  Even the state legislature will take up a bill to allow nonprofits like churches host markets without losing their property tax exemption.

“Our congregation is a typical 80-year-old mainline church sorting out what it looks like to live into the future, engaging in issues of the environment and creation care,” he said.

“We have increasingly been conversing about environment and food,” he said, noting that for two years the congregation has donated funds to replant trees in rain forests in lieu of decorating the church with poinsettias at Christmas.

Visiting Seattle after Christmas in 2007, Craig and Nancy decided to buy one more present before driving home. That decision led them to realize most of the gifts were things their daughters would play with for a day and throw away.

After discussing how they could make a difference, they came up with four rules their family would follow for a year:

They would put their purchases through those filters, with a few exceptions.  They would buy coffee and make other purchases from Thailand where Nancy had lived for a while.

They began learning where things they bought were from.  They found toilet paper made in Lewiston.  They did field trips to find other locally produced products they used.

When one daughter wanted a piñata for her birthday, they made one.

“We loved the time we spent intentionally doing things together,” Craig said. 

“Our greatest conversations were about food,” he said.  “For example, we gave ourselves permission to take out our lawn to expand the garden and we decided  to plant it as a labyrinth.  While Nancy had wondered what the girls would do without a lawn, the girls spent time running around the labyrinth.”

Their intentional consumption choices challenged their daily rhythms.  They used one car until it was totaled.

“In six months, everything became normal,” Craig said.

Reflecting on the theology of creation care, he noted that Colossians 1 speaks of Jesus being in “all things.”  In Greek, the passage contains no word for “things.” It’s just “the all”—the integrated whole world.

“The North American church needs to reweave our theology,” Craig said,  “so we realize that a farmers’ market is a ministry even if we do not hand out evangelical tracts.

“The farmers’ market is the way half the people in the community know about the church.  One woman, who told me she is an atheist, said she wanted to be in a church like this one,” he said.

 “Out of our experience, buying or not buying something becomes a sacred event, an access point to God’s kingdom,” he said.

When the Goodwins began the year, they wondered what they would eat.  They went to Greenbluff and found Gary Siemer’s barn full of winter squash.  They learned that what they and others did not take and eat would rot.

Later at a grocery store, they found out that the winter squash came from Mexico, while 10 miles away squash was rotting in a barn and Gary finds it tough to make it as a farmer these days.

“We became advocates for local farmers,” Craig said.

The Goodwins bought chickens and eggs from So Yi Deuk and Gary Angell’s Rocky Ridge Farm and milk from Behm’s Dairy.

“If we ate chickens, meat or eggs, we wanted them raised by sustainable practices,” he said.

They bought five chickens to raise in their back yard.  Craig built a chicken coop.

We’ve discovered God’s work of redemption in Christ is relevant in some surprising places, even caring for chickens,” he said.  “Our family appreciates that animals are God’s creations, not hunks of meat and that chickens thrive by wandering the yard to eat bugs and worms,” he said.

The girls gather two dozen eggs a week and entered the chickens in the Spokane County fair.  Lily’s won best of class.

Seeking local flour, Craig began learning that flour in the stores has different labels but is the same flour. 

Learning about Shepherds Grains’ sustainable practices, he learned how conventional farming with tilling and pesticides has depleted the topsoil through erosion.

“Once the topsoil is gone, it’s gone.  We have borrowed on the savings account of topsoil for generations.  When I see mud channels flowing into streams, I now know life is flowing away.  Soil is life,” he said.

He wonders why in a nation that is considered wealthy so many people eat processed food.  He thought about the implications of faith in the midst of food scarcity and abundance. 

Craig continues to make posts on his blog on the Spokesman-Review Down to Earth website.

For information, call 924-2350 or email

Copyright © December 2009 - The Fig Tree