In the back of Sonoma’s Faith Lutheran Church, five different kinds of tomatoes are growing. Watermelons, too, their great vines stretching out alongside summer squashes, zucchinis and pumpkins. There are casaba melons and string beans. Chinese snow peas and scarlet runner beans climb up a 12-foot conical trellis, their pods dripping into its center.

The 2,500-square-foot garden produces up to 100 pounds of summertime produce a week, a bounty shared with various nonprofits around town like La Luz Center, or handed out in grocery bags to anyone who asks.

“We can go sit in church and do all the things that we do in church, say our prayers,” said Jim Griewe, who has run the year-round garden for the Arnold Drive church since 2012. “It doesn’t mean anything, really, unless when you walk out of church, you continue the practical application of that ministry. This gives us the chance to do that.”

Faith Lutheran is just one of more than 150 congregations in Sonoma and Marin counties that have engaged with the Interfaith Sustainable Food Collaborative, a group started by Sebastopol mushroom farmer Steve Schwartz five years ago this summer. The idea: help faith groups connect with their local food systems through their values.

This spring, the group officially spread to incorporate congregations in Contra Costa and Alameda counties, where already 35 congregations have reached out to learn more about the project.

“In every faith community, you have a lot of people — hopefully the majority — saying, ‘How do I put my beliefs into action? How do I act on my values?’ ” Schwartz said.

That’s where the collaborative steps in. Sometimes, it’s connecting congregates to CSAs, or community-supported agriculture programs, which benefit local farmers by providing a reliable paycheck for regular produce box deliveries. In other cases, it’s expanding an existing pantry to include locally grown food, which helps Faith Lutheran parishioners like Griewe connect more deeply to their faith.

Other times, still, it means bringing a produce stand to faith sites and using U.S. Department of Agriculture grant funds to open access to CalFresh users, like at St. Andrew’s-in-the-Redwoods Episcopal Church in Monte Rio or at Santa Rosa’s Greater Powerhouse Church of God in Christ.

It’s all part of a larger national movement to connect faith groups with local agriculture communities to promote food security.

Jewish environmental organization Hazon has long promoted the idea of congregations taking part in local farmer CSAs, and the Presbyterian Hunger Program encourages communities to think about and strengthen their food economies through similar means.

“Congregations will say, ‘Hey, creation care — we want to care for God’s earth, how are we going to put that into practice?’ Support a local organic farmer,” said Schwartz, who attends Congregation Shomrei Torah. Other congregations will say, “ ‘We care about raising up immigrants and the stranger among us, how do we do that?’ Well, support a local farm like Laguna Farm where one of the owners is an immigrant who worked their way up from farmworker to owner.”

Schwartz got involved in the sustainable food movement after serving in the Peace Corps in Thailand, where he learned to grow mushrooms from a local tribe, but he was raised to be conscious of food insecurity by a Jewish father who was kicked off his Czechoslovakian farmland during World War II.

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Source: Press Democrat

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