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Gain More When You Consume Less with Craig Goodwin- Episode 91

Isn’t it amazing that a grocery store will truck in produce from hundreds of miles away, in fact, from another country entirely, when local farmers have the same home-grown produce sitting in storehouses, rotting away?

Ask yourself a question—do you know any one of the people who contribute to the food on your table? Can you put a face on any farmer who has provided the produce that makes up your meals? Today’s guest on Off the Grid Radio is Craig Goodwin, pastor and author of the book, Year of Plenty. This book chronicles his family’s year-long experiment in rejecting rampant consumerism and only buying locally produced, used, homegrown, or homemade items. It was an experiment that would not only change their lives, but it reconnected them to the community in which they lived.

Off The Grid Radio
Ep 091
Released: March 2, 2012

Jeff: Well greetings listeners and a hearty welcome to Off the Grid Radio. My name is Jeff Harlow and I’m sitting in today for Bill Heid and across from the microphone I’m joined by my colleague, Abe Chacko. Welcome, Abe.


Abe: Thank you.


Jeff: And today it’s our great pleasure to welcome, as our special guest, Craig Goodwin, a pastor and author living in Washington State. Welcome, Craig.


Craig: Hey, thanks so much for having me on.


Jeff: You’re welcome. Thank you for joining us. Craig and his family recently engaged in what Craig refers to as a “year of plenty,” in which he and he wife and his two daughters chose to pull themselves back from the idolatry of easy consumerism. Craig has written a book chronicling their experiences called Year of Plenty. So Craig, could you explain to our listeners what this year of plenty was all about?


Craig: Sure. Right at the end of 2007, my wife and I, who are both pastors at a Presbyterian church, we were kind of recovering from all the craziness of Christmas—all the gift buying and for us, all the worship services. We honestly were a little bit burnt out or maybe a lot burned out. We had one last present to buy. This was on December 27th and we ended up buying this little, tiny, pink manicure set for one of our nieces, kind of packaged in a square yard of plastic and cardboard. On driving away from the store we basically got in this big argument about the meaninglessness or just the why were we buying all of this stuff? It wasn’t really helping us connect with the people that we loved and were supposedly buying it for.

And so that argument sort of turned into a constructive conversation about, “Well, what are some other ways that we might go about consuming things in our lives? What are some other ways that we might shape that part of our lives?”

And there were some themes that emerged in that conversation. Our church started a farmers market about five years ago and we talked about how much we loved that local connection to farmers and we have been getting into gardening year after year and at that point, we really recognized that we loved that. We loved planting seeds and nurturing plants and then harvesting and eating that together. And so homegrown was another theme. And then we talked about this compulsion to always have the new and the next thing. We said, “Well, maybe we can buy used things. We don’t always have to have all the new things all the time.” And then homemade was the other theme that came up was, “Maybe we can make more of our own things.”

So local, used, homegrown and homemade were the themes that arose and at some point in the conversation I said, “Well, what if we tried to live for a whole year according to those rules? What if everything that we purchased for a year fit into that matrix of local, used, homegrown and homemade?” For some reason—it seems kind of crazy looking back on it but for some reason that really made sense and it seemed doable and so just a couple days before 2008, we decided that we would try to follow those rules for a whole year, starting on January 1, 2008.


Jeff: So boy, that’s not much of a run up, as far as planning and preparation, is it?


Craig: That’s right, yeah– Just two or three days. And maybe that was good. We didn’t have too much time to think about all the implications of that.


Jeff: So tell us about your year. What were some of the surprises you encountered, things you didn’t anticipate? How did the flow of it go?


Craig: Well, with so few days to prepare, we really didn’t put a lot of thought into it and my attitude was, “Well, that’s part of the adventure. We’ll figure it out as we go.” And it did turn out to be quite an adventure. These questions came up, “Well, what about toilet paper? Local, used, homegrown, homemade… What are we going to do about toilet paper?” One of the great things is that we learned a lot about our region. We defined local as eastern Washington and northern Idaho and so we ended up calling all these people. We found a paper manufacturer in Lewiston, Idaho, which was in our range. We called them up and they told us where we could find their toilet paper.

We found out that we weren’t going to be able to have sugar for the year, which was a real shock and surprise. There was a sugar beet factory nearby and we kind of rejoiced when we found an article on the internet about this sugar factory but then the next article that we found basically said it had closed down a year before. So we were going to have to live without that and without chocolate.

And even things that we thought would be really obvious like, “Well, we wouldn’t have any problem finding cheddar cheese.” And in fact, we found a very large manufacturer of cheddar cheese in Sunnyside, Washington and we called them up and we said, “Where can we buy your cheese?” They manufacture 40-pound blocks of cheddar cheese, which we actually were willing to buy a 40-pound block of cheddar cheese if that meant we could have cheese for the year. And we called them up and they said, “Well, actually we ship most of our cheese to Wisconsin,” which was just this really… We were learning kind of how mixed up and confused the system of food commodities are, that go on sort of behind the scenes. So it felt a little bit like pulling back the curtain on some of the craziness of what goes on.

This was kind of an experiment. We launched ourselves into it. We thought that it would be interesting and helpful and that we would learn a lot. One of the early experiences that really solidified and convinced us that this really was going to be a meaningful path was we went to a local farm in a nearby area called Green Bluff and we met with a local farmer who had some winter squash. He was one of the few farmers in January, in our region, that had some food left over from the harvest and so we got winter squash from him. He started a conversation and he described how hard it is as a farmer these days and in fact, showed us—he had a whole barn full of probably four or five tons of winter squash and he said it’s all going to rot because he didn’t have the storage. It hadn’t been purchased and he didn’t have the storage at the proper temperature. So we really started to connect with farmers around how difficult it is to make a living and to get their product in the stores.

And then right after that, we went to the local grocery store and there on the end aisle, in the produce aisle, I saw winter squash and I thought, “Oh, I wonder where that comes from.” And I picked it up and it said, “Product of Mexico.” So over 1,500 miles away, this squash from central Mexico had been shipped to Spokane and here just ten miles away a local farm had a barn full of squash that was rotting. We discovered in that, the meaningfulness of being connected to a farmer and connected to their story but also the real tragedy that our system seems to be mixed up in a lot of ways.


Jeff: Right. Well, if I remember, your book, which is by the same name that we introduced earlier, Year of Plenty, has a chapter in it entitled “Food With Faces.” Can you give us a little more idea of what that means?


Craig: Actually, in Japan they started a program of connecting consumers with farmers and it, in many ways, was a precursor to what we call CSA programs, which is short for Consumer Supported Agriculture. A lot of people know those as a program where you can sign up and subscribe to a box of vegetables and fruit and other items, even meat, with a local farmer. But in Japan, the meaning of the phrase is, “food with a face on it,” or “putting a face on the food.” That theme really came to mean a lot to us in our year. One of the most meaningful things, and it continues to be for us, is having a relationship with the people that grow and produce and bring the food to market that we eat on our dinner table. And that really kind of came to a head early on in the year when we sat down for a meal and we thanked God for the food, like we always do, “Thank you God for the winter squash and thank you God for the eggs and the meat.” But we spontaneously, without really planning to, started thanking God for Mr. Siemers, who grew the squash and, “Thank you for the Angel family, who raised the chickens that produced the eggs.”

As people of faith, we were discovering that this central ethic of loving our neighbor as ourselves, we were learning to include farmers and food producers in that circle of love, in a way that we never really had experienced then and really started to sense that that needs to be part of our journey. We can’t just consume food as a faceless commodity because really, there’s always a face that goes with food and there always is a story and a journey that goes with the food that we eat.

The systems in our economy do all that they can to kind of erase those stories and erase those faces because it thrives on the lack of knowledge around where items come from. We go to the store and most of the food manufacturers, all that they want us to know is the price and the brand. We have been learning how meaningful it is and how important it is for us as consumers, not only to know the price and the brand but to know the people, to know the story, to know the practices that have been a part of bringing that food to market. So anyway, that has become a real meaningful part of our journey.


Jeff: That’s wonderful. Well Craig, many of our listeners are trying to plan for events in the future that might result in the forced loss of easy access to the consumer products like food in the supermarket, electricity or maybe even clean water. And indeed, we may all find ourselves needing to rely on locally grown food and locally made products. So it seems to me that the choices that you and your family have voluntarily made offer a tremendous example and source of wisdom for our listeners who are only imagining what it would be like.

So give us some counsel. Speak to our listeners about how they might look at maybe a gradual approach to getting to where you guys were. What were some of the roadblocks you encountered that they might see here? I’m now in the middle of farming land but all the farmland here is dedicated to corn and soybeans and none of it for human consumption unless you’re eating high fructose corn syrup or something like that. So speak to us, if you would.


Craig: One crazy thing about the farming system right now—like you mentioned being in the middle of this rich farmland but it’s all these commodity, a lot of them genetically modified crops—In Washington, I know that it’s actually illegal—at least on some farms—to do the mixed farming where you have animals and you have vegetables and chickens and that sort of diverse farming, actually is illegal in some places. But there are people like Joel Salatin in the northeast and others who are really advocating. Michael Paul is a big advocate for that. That we need to recover those integrated practices of farming where the animals are eating the grass, which is what they’re really designed to do and then they’re producing fertilizer that then helps grow the plants that we eat and that feed the animals. And so just as that farming system needs some recovery of those practices, what we found as consumers is that there really were these wonderful practices that we were learning to recover.

For those that are thinking about, “What does it look like to have a more sustainable practice as consumers?” We learned that we were capable of all these things that we had no idea we could do. We took our lawn, our nice big green lawn, and we turned it into a vegetable garden. We actually made it in the shape of a labyrinth. We kind of had some fun with that. We took this fairly large plot of land that was all grass and we turned it into a vegetable garden. One of the questions we had was, “Well, what about the kids? The kids run on the grass and play on the grass and what will happen to them?” And it was amazing to see that the garden for them, actually became, not only for them but also for their friends, a center of activity in the summer months. They would gather around and get green beans and get carrots and they would have what they would call “little feasts.” And so there was something really powerful for the kids to be a part of the process of planting seeds and nurturing plants and harvesting food.

And for those wanting to move in this direction, I think growing some of our own food is maybe the most helpful first step, even if it’s just a container garden, even if it’s signing up to be a part of a local community garden. But for us, on our journey, even before our year started, that process of planting and nurturing and harvesting was sort of an apprenticeship experience, I think, for many of the other practices of a sustainable lifestyle. During our year, I took a Master Food Preserver course, which is one of those other practices that was so much a part of many of our parents and grandparents growing up. That’s one of the challenges with eating locally is that the food is only fresh and ripe for a small window and so how do we preserve that food so that it can be used in those winter months, was one of the big challenges and questions. And there really are canning and freezing and drying foods—those are practices for thousands and thousands of years, that’s how we did it. And it’s only in the last 75 years or so that refrigeration has become common and these other ways of doing it and we really lost some of those other practices.

The food preservation, the gardening… I recommend those as ways to kind of start getting into that. We also grind our own grains for bread. My wife sort of became the family baker. She makes five or six loaves of bread every week and we eat that. We get grains from our local farmer. It’s amazing how easy that is to grind our own grains and to be able to utilize that. One of the things that we learned was to eat seasonally. We have gotten so used, in our culture, to having watermelon at any time of year or blueberries at any time of year. One of the things that we’ve had to learn is we’re not going to have watermelon in January from Chile or wherever it gets shipped in from. We really learned to appreciate seasonal eating and learned that potatoes and lentils and some of these grains that basically last forever if they’re stored properly—that we really could eat those and enjoy those and then when the fresh fruits and vegetables came in and those were ripe, boy, they have never tasted so good as they did during that year.

So those are some of the things. I think just learning about our food system and learning how mixed up it can be with all of the way commodities just kind of move around in our culture. But learning and connecting with local farmers was a big part of our journey. I would say make a friend with a farmer would be a great step. Go to a farmers market and not only buy things at a farmers market but also strike up a friendship with a farmer. Go and visit their farm. They would love nothing more than that. Learn about what that’s like for them, the challenges of that.

What I learned in that is there’s a reason that the small farmers have all but disappeared. It’s hard to make a living. They can’t sell eggs for $2.00 a dozen like they do at the local grocery store because their costs are fixed in such a way that that’s just not possible. And learning there’s a reason those eggs are $2.00 a dozen. The things that the chickens eat are almost unspeakable in some cases. The way that those chickens are treated that produced those eggs are unfathomable. And so I think just as we start to learn and make those connections, we become more empowered and more capable to kind of take those things into our own hands and make decisions about how we’re going to either provide things for ourselves or have friendships and networks in which we’re able to provide those things for our families.


Abe: As I was skimming your book, I came across that one exception, that about the coffee. And being from India, recognizing this is probably a two-part question because everybody is going to have their own exceptions. You might be coffee. Somebody, it may be butter or whatever it is. And that’s one issue. And the other part of the question is the way in which you juxtaposed that with helping the economies of third world countries. Being from India, I’m very sensitive to the fact that in the last few years, there has been a boom in the middle class of India and if everybody sought to go local, what and how would we as Christians, also minister to the needs of developing countries?


Craig: Yeah, yeah. I guess I should explain to the listeners. There were a couple of exceptions. We had medical exceptions where we chose to buy things outside of our rules. But one of the big challenges early on was where are we going to get coffee. People’s response to that… Some people have called that a stroke of genius and they say, “Well, what a wonderful… Instead of just isolating ourselves, that allowed us to connect with an international location.” Because that was ultimately the decision we made was that we would choose one international location to connect with. And not only get coffee and rice but also nurture a sense of knowledge of what goes on in that location. At the end of the year, we committed to making a visit to that location. Some people have called that “the coffee copout.” I’ll let people decide whether it was a stroke of genius or a coffee copout.

But we ended up choosing Thailand, where my wife lived for two years after she graduated from college. Like I said, we decided that we would acquire goods from that location– For us that meant pineapple and tuna fish and coffee and some other items. But we also recognize we live in a global economy now and as relatively wealthy Americans, we aren’t comfortable with the idea of, “Well, we just need to close ourselves off from this global economy, no matter how that affects people around the world.” For us, that wasn’t the idea that we are going to in a sense, abandon the world for our little isolated corner. I don’t think that we can ultimately escape the global economy but I think we can meaningfully engage and connect with it.

So that was our hope was that in choosing this international location, that we would get a better understanding of the dynamics in that economy in Thailand and the life of the workers there and the economic dynamics there. And so as part of our year, we made a donation to a microloan program for a refugee village in northern Thailand. And when we went to Thailand at the end of the year, we actually went to that village and sat in the headman’s hut while they were bringing their money in to the bank and really had a first hand experience with the depth of the poverty and the contrast with the resources that we have and the life that they’re living there. Really opened our eyes. It really was an eye opener. And then we also ended up visiting a Presbyterian missionary who has an orphanage of children, of parents who have died of AIDS because of the sex trade in Thailand.

So that whole social, cultural, justice and injustice in Thailand, it really opened our eyes to that as well. What we found, and this was really the lesson that I think I learned and that I carry with me, is that learning the skills during that year of paying attention to our local economy and our local food and the justice and injustice in our own local setting—It gave us new eyes to see and experience those things in Thailand. And it gave us, as people who want to engage, who want to pursue justice in the world, who want to love our neighbors as ourselves, who want to care for those that produce the things that we consume—that we, in a very important way, I think we are equipped better now to enter responsibly into the global economy that we’re a part of, than before we entered into our experiment. So anyway, I don’t know if that totally answers your question but that’s a part of it.


Abe: It gives an overview. I just have another question, just to shift it a little, theologically. I was very interested in how you differentiated or contrasted the Sabbath—the Hebrew and then the first day of the week for us Christians. Since many of our hearers are of a Christian heritage, I’m really interested if you can elaborate a little bit on that.


Craig: One of the observations that I have in the book is that we started in January, which was the dead of winter. There was snow on the ground. In many ways, there wasn’t a whole lot we could do, other than just kind of buy the scraps of food and whatever else was available at the time. My observation was that that experience of essentially, not running headlong into the… If we would have started in the spring, my observation was that we probably just would have tuckered ourselves out because we would have jumped in and been doing all these things. But starting in January was kind of slow and it reflected in some ways, of the Sabbath experience.

I write about how we think about the Sabbath as the end of the week. We kind of wear ourselves out and then we rest and that is the Jewish practice that it was the last day. It was the seventh day of the week. But in the Creation account, humankind’s first day was the day of rest. The analogy that I use is to imagine having the biggest to-do list ever assembled. Go and fill the earth and have that on the fridge and the first day comes along and you get ready and God says, “And now w rest.” Our sense of that and part of what we learned during the year is to slow down and to really recognize our dependence and our reliance on God for the things that we have. That this isn’t just an exercise in us producing or others producing for us. That ultimately there is a sense of reliance on God’s grace and mercy, in the sustenance and in the things that sustain us in life—the food and the people and the different items that we consume—that ultimately, we need to turn our attention to God.

And one of the things that I write about is that in the spring, I wanted so badly to have vegetables. We have a greenhouse and I started our plants just way too early and I put them in the ground way too early. Ultimately, there was nothing I could do to force them to grow and to produce food. In the midst of that, we turned our attention and recognized all of these volunteer plants that were coming up. I write about the experience of us sitting down for a dandelion salad. And I’d like to say that dandelions are a great… That’s a crop I’ve proven that I can grow every year. So for any gardener who is sort of licking their wounds from fickle spring weather, there are always dandelions.


Jeff: That seems like a love-hate relationship if I ever heard one.


Craig: Yeah, but dandelions are… You can go online and buy seeds for dandelions because many places in the world… It talks about bitter herbs in the Bible. Dandelions were likely among those bitter herbs that people were eating. The point is that we learned to, instead of forcing our way in the midst of creation, we learned to pay attention and receive the gifts that were coming freely. And among those were these volunteer plants that we could eat.


Jeff: It sounds, Craig, like what your family has encountered is something that I imagine, a few generations ago, everybody would have been familiar with—kind of the rhythm of the seasons. There is a recharging that comes. Certainly the Sabbath had part of that as its intention but winter does that for the farming community, doesn’t it?


Craig: That’s right, yeah.


Jeff: Well let me add my great pleasure in reading your book and the way that your Christian understanding really permeates through. And so I wanted to ask you a few questions about some of those maybe—the way that doctrine and reality and the dirt in your garden and theological questions all kind of begin to come together as you describe it. So first of all, you developed in your book, the idea that Christians ought to live out their faith in the way they consume and produce. Not a terribly new idea, I suppose, but I’m really interested in the way that you developed the Christian doctrine of the incarnation and apply it to the way that we ought to use the created world. Can you give us a summary of what you’re trying to get at there?


Craig: One of the people that I’ve read a lot and quote a lot in the book is Wendell Berry. For me, one of the most important quotes from Wendell Berry is he talks about how one of the greatest tragedies in human history is the way that we have divided up the things of the spirit and things of the material world. And he talks about what a tragedy that on the one hand, we can life up our hands in praise of God and on the other hand, we can take our hands and destroy the Earth without a thought, one to the other– This sense in which those things are divided up. And for me, on my Christian journey—and I kind of come from an evangelical strand of Presbyterianism—and I’m grateful for my Christian tradition and heritage but one of the downsides of my tradition has been a subtle reinforcement of that divide between things of the spirit and things of the material world.


Jeff: That sacred-secular.


Craig: Yeah, a sacred-secular divide, just a sense of disconnect between pursuing things of the spirit and pursuing things of this world. And so you mentioned the incarnation. For me, that is just the central Christian doctrine. Eugene Peterson who wrote the forward to the book, he does a delightful job of kind of lifting that up. I write a lot about the care of Creation and he says that at the heart of caring for God’s Creation is this doctrine of the incarnation. That God has come in the flesh, in Christ.

Colossians 1, for me, is a central text in understanding this. Where Paul says that, “in Christ, all things are created. In Christ, all things are sustained. And that in Christ, all things are being redeemed.” And just over and over again, Paul uses that Greek word ponta, which is “all things.” I love, in the Interlinear Bible, where it does a little…. You always get kind of these funny literal translations of the Greek words. The Interlinear translates the word ponta as “the all.” That in Christ, the all is being redeemed. In Christ, the all is being sustained and created. And I love that sense that it’s not just a bunch of separated things in the world. That it’s the all. That it’s this whole and that the work that God is doing in Christ is to engage everything. There is no corner that we can kind of section off and say, “Well okay, the redeeming work of Christ doesn’t apply here.” Or as we pursue a life of redemption and as we live into the salvation and grace of Christ, it’s all included.

And that includes all these things that we maybe have subtly excluded like what we go and buy at the grocery store. It’s one of the most mundane things we do in life but may be one of the things that we think that, “This is irrelevant to the worship that I practice on a Sunday.” So for us, a big part of the journey has been making those connections. In some ways it’s such a small life to think that salvation only applies to this little small pocket of things. What a wonderful adventure to recognize that what God is up to in the world. Everything is included.

And the incarnation of Christ in the world, in the flesh, is the foundation of that and points us in that right direction. And so we have the work of paying attention to the work of the Spirit in the world and making those connections. And it’s a wonderful adventure. In many ways, for me in a personal sense, my faith has come alive as we’ve made those connections. Like for us as a church, we host a farmers market. We host and run a farmers market in the parking lot. Some people, early on, they were like, “Well, what does this have to do with being a church or being a pastor?” But we’ve just found these wonderful, generative connections between what we think of as a ministry—the ministry of the farmers market—and our ministry as a congregation, in seeking the welfare of this community that God has called us to.


Jeff: Well, it certainly seems to me, and I think your book reinforces this wonderfully, that this secular-sacred divide has really tempted us to despise the lower Creation and to use it as a commodity, to use it as something that we can use… And you mention Wendell Berry and I think he has corrected a lot of my inclinations in that as well. But it gives us a purpose. That the Creation itself, as Paul says, is groaning, expecting something better in the future, isn’t it?


Craig: Right.


Jeff: The premise of the fact that Jesus not only took on flesh but He is now seated at the right hand of the Father, in a human body—that bodies are not contra, the Greek idea. Bodies are not evil. Bodies are good and earth and dirt and all that is good. Fallen, yes. But being redeemed. And the new heavens and the new Earth that’s coming is not a start over. It’s not a do over on God, is it? It’s the climax of the redemption of Christ, bringing all Creation, as you were saying, all things, the all into its glorious future.


Craig: Yeah. And if we want to talk in theological terms, I think a lot of us have fallen into sort of a Gnosticism, which is what was going on in the ancient world, where the material was despised and considered to be irrelevant, from the spiritual. And clearly, the incarnation of Christ totally contradicts any kind of gnostic thought that somehow the material doesn’t matter. So anyway, yeah, I’m with you on that.


Jeff: That would seem to give us a reason to get back into carefully tending the Earth, that the Earth is something that’s going to grow up into something really glorious and we get a part to play in seeing to that transformation.


Craig: Wendell Berry, one of the quotes at the end of the book, that I use, is that Wendell Berry says that eating is an agricultural act. That’s maybe one of his most famous quotes. That to eat something is to participate in an agricultural system. And what I write at the end of book is that we were learning that eating is a theological act. That for us, that’s a participation in God’s Kingdom coming in the world as it is in heaven and that not only eating but buying stuff at the grocery store is a theological act. It’s a way for us of working out our faith.


Jeff: Well, you also share in your book that you visited an Earth Day celebration and I don’t know that I’m going to recommend a lot our listeners to book a flight out to Washington or Oregon so they can go see one of these things but it did provide an opportunity for you to comment and I fully agree, having come from the northwest myself, that there was little or no Christian presence at that celebration. And in general, the people you hear most passionately talking about taking care of the planet, nurturing the Earth, whatever it is—and there are all sorts of other religions that are trying to get on board with that stuff too—but it really seems to me, from the things that you’ve been talking about to what you state in your book, Christians need to be in the leadership position. We have a cogent, comprehensive way of thinking about Creation that our neighbors lack. So how have you tried to stimulate the Christians in your circles to get more involved in showing the rest of those, the rest of the community, how to rightly use God’s good gifts?


Craig: I think that’s one of the real challenges. With the book, I really feel like there are two audiences. One audience is the Christian Church, which I think needs an experience of conversion to embrace the care of Creation as something that is important to us. I think there has been, for a whole variety of reasons, there is this cultural divide. And what are perceived as secular forces in our culture, the perception is that they own those issues– That they own the issue of environmentalism and care of Creation.

So one story that I like to tell is that our youth pastor was meeting with a bunch of other youth pastors and he said, “Oh yeah, my pastor has this book coming out.” And one of the other youth pastors had heard about it and he said, “Oh yeah.” Brandon, our youth director, was about to say what it was about and the other youth pastor said, “I know what it’s about.” He said, “It’s about hippies.” He was joking but there is this, in the Christian community, there is this sense in which these issues of Creation care and the environment and even agriculture—It’s somehow marginalized and considered to be kind of weird. I don’t know. And maybe a lot of Christians think, “Well, it’s fine for some particularly kind of groovy Christians to be interested in those things but maybe it shouldn’t be a concern of the whole Church. Maybe if we want to have a committee for that or whatever.”

So one of the things that I try to communicate when I go around to churches and speak is that if we believe that in Jesus, all things are created, sustained and redeemed, then the care of Creation is not just a marginal concern or a niche concern in the Church. It really is a central concern and something that not just some of us should be engaged with but all of us need to be engaged with it. And so I try to communicate that.

One of the helpful ways that I try to do that is promote… There are ministries out there. Evangelical Christian mission agencies that are engaged in these sort of things. Like there’s an organization called Plant With Purpose that I write about in the book. They are a Christian mission organization that believes wholeheartedly in Christ and in salvation in Christ but they recognize that in order to do mission among impoverished people around the world, that they need to address issues of deforestation. If they’re going to address poverty and seek the welfare of the people in this village, they need to go upstream and address issues of deforestation, of degradation of the land. They’re teaching them how to do backyard farming and how to do aquaculture and all those sorts of things, which are all kind of environmentalist sort of endeavors but this Christian mission agency has recognized that in order to meaningfully engage in missions, that they have to get involved in that. That’s part of the redemptive work of Christ in those communities and part of their job communicating Christ to those people. So that’s one example, I think, is to get engaged with organizations like that.

The other audience that I think needs to be spoken to are there are a lot of secular people who are apart from the Church and one of the reasons they disdain the Church or reject the Church is that their perception is that the Church doesn’t care about these things. That somehow to be a Christian means to reject care for the environment or to reject a holistic perspective in the world. And so for me, that’s another part of the work that I think we have to do is that we have to recognize that one of the reasons there are a lot of people that have rejected Christ and have rejected the Church is that their perception is that we have a very small view of the world. So part of our evangelistic endeavor is to help them see the comprehensive, wonderful vision of Christ for the world, this Kingdom of God that’s coming on Earth as it is in Heaven, which I think is incredibly compelling.


Jeff: Well if I could, in the few minutes remaining here, one last thing that I could ask you to help us with, in terms of a common concern that’s raised by our listeners is that they’re finding it difficult to persuade—the husband to persuade the wife, the parents to persuade the children, to make some of these sacrifices that are necessary to get off the grid, in terms of just being compliant consumers and to begin being more decisive and more focused on not just preparation but beginning to make these changes right now, even before the lights go off, if you will. So how would you encourage those who are committed and convinced but are having trouble persuading? You had a wife. You had children that had to come along in this as well. So give us some counsel there.


Craig: I would say in our experience, it was one small step after another. In some ways we jumped in. Our year forced us to embrace things. Maybe I wouldn’t recommend that approach for most people. But we had been building up to that over the years. Year after year, our garden kept growing. Year after year we developed these relationships with the farmers. And so over time, these practices just made more sense. What at one point just seemed like it would be ridiculous—Like for us, the idea of getting chickens, initially just seemed to all of us… We had never had experience with that. We never grew up on a farm or anything like that. But slowly, over time—and I took the leadership in that but my daughters were also really interested in that too and so I think that helped my wife kind of, “Okay, if the girls are in on this too…” And so we got the chickens and we just kind of learned together and it really was a delightful experience to sort of jump in and learn together.

And I think that’s one of the lessons that we learned is that our family life has become this wonderful adventure that in many ways, it wasn’t before. And as we experienced one of those adventures…  When we tore out the lawn and turned it into a vegetable garden and discovered how fun that was, then when it came time to get the chickens, it was like, “Well, this is kind of weird and different but I remember how hard that was for us to imagine turning the lawn into a vegetable garden.”

I feel like we’ve sort of developed confidence over time as we’ve had one experience that’s empowered us to the next experience to step into the next experience. There is sort of a cumulative confidence building for us as a family. And I would say I probably have been the one that has taken the initiative and sort of said, “What do you guys think about this?” That’s the role that I tend to be in but I never have forced that and I wouldn’t recommend making people do things they don’t want to do. But I think as we do small experiments we become much more receptive to new things. And as we experience one change, we realize, “Wow. Maybe it’s not that big a step to take that next step and to make that next change.” And before we know it, we’re living a totally different life and it just seems normal.


Jeff: Yeah, one step at a time. And really as you’re saying, doing is one of the best arguments. Don’t just talk about it. Don’t just complain about the others who aren’t doing it. Just begin. Take small steps. Do what you can today.


Craig: Exactly. I would pick one small experiment and don’t even say, “We’re going to do this for the rest of our life.” Just say, “Let’s try a vegetable garden this summer and see how it goes.” Just give it a try and I think people will be surprised at how much fun and how much they want to do the next thing.


Jeff: Well Craig, this has been a delight. So on behalf of Abe Chacko and all our listeners here at Off the Grid Radio, I’d like to express my genuine and hearty thanks for you taking time out of your busy life to share your story and your wisdom with us. So God bless you and your family. And then also, I want to give you an opportunity, if you would like to tell listeners how they can learn more about your experience and might gain even more from your insights.


Craig: Yeah, I have a blog. It’s called and I maintain that blog and they can find all kinds of other information on the book and on our experiment at The book is available through your website and it’s also available on In light of the book, buying it from the radio station, Off the Grid Radio, or from a local bookstore—It’s available in all those different ways.


Jeff: That’s right. So once again folks, I’ll just reiterate. If you would like a copy of Craig’s book, Year of Plenty, we do have it for sale on And so Craig, once again a hearty thanks to you. God bless you and we look forward to hearing more and watching your blog and seeing the way that the Lord is going to lead you guys in the future.


Abe: Thanks Craig.


Craig: Thanks so much for having me on. Thank you.


Jeff: Thank you. And folks, if you’re listening to our show on, we would encourage you to use the comments section below to offer your feedback from today’s show. Thank you again for listening.

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