I grew up on a small mixed farm on the prairies, with a large garden that provided all of our fruits and vegetables for a year as well as providing some produce for market. I definitely took it for granted back then, but no longer! Now, as an urbanite, the few skills I picked up are a treasured possession — although prairie methods have not always been beneficial on the wet coast.
When I invite my Anabaptist history class over every year they marvel at my garden as novel and “cool,” but it is really my meager attempt to practice my faith on a domestic level. The informal time around the table with food highlights two important Anabaptist values that could not be communicated as effectively in the classroom: community and simplicity.
My invitation is very much a part of the course as I believe that how and what we eat is very much a part of Anabaptist/Mennonite faith. Harvesting a few vegetables reminds me of where food comes from and my constant battle with raccoons, neighborhood pets, slugs and other pests reminds me how volatile and precarious food production is.
I’m learning to trust God. What if my life depended on my garden? We get enough raspberries to freeze for the winter but every other crop is consumed fresh and only compliments what we buy from the local market. I’m very grateful. Perhaps faith and food begins with gratitude.
Traditionally, “Mennonite food” has included heavy meals such as sausage and vereneki with a sauce made from cream and meat fat. Doris Janzen Longacre’s More With Less heralded a new era of Mennonite food that was more about things like beans, lentils and rice. Her cookbook and accompanying book have been followed up by international and seasonal cookbooks.
I embrace this new era of Mennonite food-ways that continues to focus on simplicity, both economically and aesthetically, but is also committed to nutrition and sustainability. I enjoy telling my students that I cooked a good meal for them for less than a dollar per person, using garden produce and dried beans and lentils.
Gareth Brandt is now in his 19th year of cycling to work at Columbia Bible College in Abbotsford, B.C., where he teaches spiritual formation and Anabaptist theology. He is author of Spirituality With Clothes On: Examining What Makes Us Who We Are and blogs at garethbrandt.wordpress.com, where this post originally appeared.