songdrawings No2 – Trouble in the Fields, Nanci Griffith


why church + farm?

I have become a bit obsessed the last week or so with how much land we would need to feed ourselves. The community unit I am most used to (having grown up with it)is not the village but the church and a nice round number for a church seems to me to be about 200 families. It seems easy to get a handle that number as I can imagine 200 actual families huddled together on a Sunday morning, probably thinking more about their Sunday diner than the sermon. Well maybe that is just me.

There is another reason why it might be useful to think about this from a church point
As a church is extended family called by God to love their neighbours, doing some very rough farming calculations might give us a ball park figure as to how wisely (or not) we are using those God gifted resources that we have all been graced with and are called to love our neighbours with.

If we believe that God made the very fabric of the earth and that humans are in some sense stewards, stewards called to keep the world well in order in order to love our neighbours well then we need to make sure that how we farm in our community is sustainable and in some sense Fairtrade. Otherwise we abusing those animals God made, including the soil and messing up the water, air and beauty of the earth.

beef/church calculation

How many cows and how much land would we need to roughly supply a church of 200 families with their average beef needs for a year?

From this table  in 1998 the Irish ate 17.1kg of meat per person per year while in the UK they ate 19.7kg.  So if we roughly say 20kg  per person now in 2010, which would be 40kg for two people, say 50kg per family per year would that be alright?

That would work out at just under a 1kg of beef per week per family. Helen and I don’t really eat much beef, so that seems like a lot to me but maybe it isn’t to you. If you make mince one night that would be 500g of minced beef for example.

It seems hard to get random internet figures on how much meat you can get from one cow but this one suggested it is very roughly about 50% of the total weight of a cow. Or this one gives an average of ~370kg for a dressed carcass.

So if we take 370kg and assume that all that meat will be somehow used (which is unlikely considering how we only like certain cuts of meat) that would give us a VERY ROUGH figure of a 370kg/50kg = 7.4 families per cow

200 families / 7.4 families per cow = 27 cows

So if we wanted to supply each family in a church of 200 families with 1kg of beef we would be talking about 27 cows, perhaps I’ll round it up to a herd of 30 cows.

If we take the stocking density we used for the dairy calculation (i.e. 2.5 cows per 6.2 acres)  that would be a figure of 12 x 6.2 acres = 74.4 acres.

So from a VERY ROUGH calculation we would need about 30 cattle and 75acres of farmland.

(I’m not sure if the land calculation included the area we would need to grow silage and hay for feeding the livestock over the winter.)

cows/church calculation

How much land would we need to supply a church that has 200 families with all their milk for a year?If we say that each family drinks 5L per week that would that each family drinks 260L (5L x 52) per year.
For the church as a whole it would be approx 200 x 260L = 52000L of milk per year.
I found an a figure that each cow in Northern Ireland in 2003 produced 6,290L of milk.
So say 52000/6290 = 8 cows working all the time.

Lets go mad and round it up to 12 cows for the church (you can use the excess milk for cheese, cream etc).

One website recommends a stocking density of 2.5 cows per 6.2 acres so to provide all the dairy we’re very roughly looking at 5 x 6.2acres = 31 acres of farmland.

kale/church calculation

what size would of  field (very roughly) would we need to grow one kale plant per week per family from Sept to May in a church with 200 families?
approx 8ft x 24ft for one family = 192 sq. ft

for 200 families = 192 sq. ft x 200
= 38400 sq. ft
= 0.88 acre

So we’re probably looking at a field well under an acre in size.

“a world in which one set of nations operates as the dependants and effectively the servants of other nations has long been considered unacceptable….but the world’s new commercial structures, including the notion of globlized agriculture…, seems in many ways to be reinvigorating the old imperialistic relationships in a new guise”

Colin Tudge

church/organic/farming + Kenyan Green Beans + George Alagiah

Andy got me thinking about green beans for this morning. All morning round Belfast in fact. I was haunted by the bean.

“Buying local – there’s another complex one. If we stop buying food from the developing world, we help the planet in terms of global warming and other issues around that. And possibly cause tens or hundreds of millions of people to starve….”

I have thought about this before because to say that we shouldn’t buy green beans from poor farmers in Africa or other countries seems like a selfish thing to do.

We should buy their green beans and help them earn their way out of grinding poverty in a fair and dignified way.

Sure its better for the environment to fly in green beans from Kenya (where people have very low carbon footprints) than to buy them locally from a farmer who drives round his farm in a big diesel tractor, throwing fertiliser and pesticides round the place.

This all seem very logical and the Christian thing to do (almost Fairtrade) and I had almost swayed to thinking that way myself but…… then I’ve swayed back round again to thinking that it is best not to…until somebody here maybe shouts and me and I change my mind and agree with them.

I think the main problem I can see is that we’re using Kenyan water and Kenyan soil to grow crops that we don’t really need so that some supermarkets can make more money.

Maybe that is a bit simplistic but who decided that it would be a good idea to fly green beans into the UK & Ireland in winter?

Did the supermarkets decide to start buying green beans because it wanted to help Kenyans out of poverty or because they could grow green beans for next to nothing then make some profit?

I watched this clip on Youtube with the man from the BBC who does the news.

In it he said that in a country where less than 20% of the land is suitable for growing food and in the middle of a food crisis (partly caused by drought) affecting millions of people and which the Kenya government has declared a national disaster Kenya is exporting green beans over to the UK.

Then he goes to farm which employs 550 people which is watered by expensive irrigation systems  watering our vegetables, run by a British farmer and supplying our major supermarkets.

Then to compound matters, the farmer explains how often the green beans which he does grow have to be rejected by the supermarket because they are not straight enough or perhaps a bit of soil splashes up from the rain and make it dirty and the public doesn’t want to eat beans that are not straight or dirty.

Then the rejected crops are fed to cattle

The nice man from the BBC then asks the farmer why don’t they use the land for growing food for the millions of people who are starving ?

And the British farmer says because they have to grow the economy and they are creating jobs. What else are they to do in Kenya

Which is maybe a wee bit like what the English said during the potato famine when they kept on exporting food from Ireland to England and the continent.

I didn’t realise that until the other day.

While the Potato Famine was in full swing killing 1,000,000 people and causing another 1,000,000 to leave Ireland landlords and those in power where busy exporting food. It was probably good for the economy in some sense and provided some jobs but does that make it right or good?

And thats before even start thinking about things like carbon footprints and packaging,seasonal food vs local food.

So why not

Take the church lawn (if you have a church lawn),

dig it up and make some raised vegetable beds and start growing lots of French beans, peas and brocolli instead.

Take the produce and give it out for free after church for people to use for their Sunday lunch.

Take the money you would have given Tesco/Sainsbury/Asda for the Kenya green beans and give it to Christian Aid or some other charity that deals with dropping global debt or campaigning against unfair trade laws, enjoy organic food with a low carbon footprint which tastes fresh and has been grown on your church property.

If there are green beans left over put them in a freezer bag and refrigerate until you feel like having green beans again.

Have a really big Harvest Service with food you’ve grown on the old lawn, then turn it into soup for a community soup lunch (for free).

Or keep your church lawn grass but get rid of the lawnmower and keep a few sheep/chickens on it. But thats for another day…

1 Guardian Article 1

2 Guardian Blog