At a conference in California, Catholic Rural Life Executive Director Jim Ennis was approached about a presentation that had recently finished. It was about agriculture’s role in society.
“People came up to me and said they’d never heard the church speak on this topic of why agriculture is so important,” Ennis said. “I said, ‘Let me work on that.’”
It was the first step in a long journey, as Ennis — along with numerous collaborators including North Dakota Farmers Union — helped create the document, “Faith, Food and
Environment: Vocation of the Agricultural Leader.” It was officially put out by the International Catholic Rural Association (ICRA).
In Ennis’ words, the 30-page document is to “affirm the high vocation of agriculture and to achieve a sense of nobility for this really important way of life, and realize how important farmers are to society and also inspire the next generation into agriculture.”
Its name was derived from a document on business named “Vocation of the Business Leader” that was announced at an international meeting in 2012. It was there that Ennis received further motivation to move forward with the project.
“I had a chance to speak at Cardinal (Peter) Turkson about how (Vocation of the Business Leader) is a great document for business,” Ennis said. “I told him we need a document for agriculture, and he challenged me. He said, ‘That’s a great idea. Why don’t you do it?’”
Ennis embarked on a journey of securing help with this task. He approached Minnesota Farmers Union, which brought it to Farmers Union Enterprises. All five states — Minneso
ta, Montana, Wisconsin, North Dakota and South Dakota — signed on to the project.
Together, the group hosted listening sessions with growers, theologians and scientists. One of the sessions was even done internationally, as Cardinal Turkson hosted a three-day event, talking to farmers all over the world. After receiving a large amount of input, Ennis enlisted Dr. Christopher Thompson to help author the document. NDFU President Mark Watne is listed as one of a number of contributors as well.
The finished product makes 76 numbered points about agriculture, ranging from economics to ethics to stewardship to consumerism and how they relate to faith. It’s become a passion for Ennis.
“(Farming) was one of the first vocations,” Ennis said. “What’s happened, though, is it’s been demeaned and flattened out — it’s only business. That’s not true. Farmers work with organic matter, living organisms like livestock and what’s within the soil. It’s a unique and noble vocation, and it needs a lot of wisdom and science. Farmers are not second-class citizens.”
Ennis presented the document all over the United States as well as France and Zambia. He even helped present it to Pope Francis.
The next step, Ennis said, is possibly putting together study guides to increase understanding of it. Ennis also said there will be a national conference in March in St. Paul, Minn, and he’s inviting agriculture leaders to come.
“At a symposium three years ago, it was a concept,” Ennis said. “Let’s talk about what’s next on the horizon and maybe do a second edition.”
Ennis said furthering the concept to better reach consumers about the importance of supporting family farms is being discussed as well.
“We want to explore if there is a more of a consumer role here, ‘How do we cooperate with farmers and support them?’” Ennis said.
To read the document or for more information, go to www.faithfoodenvironment.org.Ennis said physical copies can be mailed out for a fee.