That He May Bring Forth Food From the Earth: Princeton Trains Clergy to Farm

Princeton’s Farminary will combine traditional theological education with the opportunity for students to get dirt underneath their fingernails.

(Photo: Getty Images)

Jun 18, 2015· 3 MIN READ
Steve Holt is a regular contributor to TakePart. He writes about food for Edible Boston, Boston Magazine, The Boston Globe, and other publications.

On a sunny morning this spring, graduate students clad in boots and overalls gently turned rich, dark soil over and over with shovels. As they did, they reflected collectively on the Judeo-Christian tradition that the first human, Adam, was formed from adama, Hebrew for “the earth.” As they watched the Lawrenceville, New Jersey, soil fall into piles in the field, they reflected on what Adam’s formation from the dirt means for humanity today—how they would teach Scripture, how they would care for the land, and how they would live.

(Photo: Steve Holte)

Dusty tomes in dusty rooms, or whatever our preconception of theological education might be, this scene is likely not it—especially taking place in an accredited course from an Ivy League seminary. The students were enrolled in a first-time course at Princeton Theological Seminary called “Scripture & Food: Teaching the Bible in Congregations,” which served as something of a precursor to the Farminary, a program launching this summer that combines theological education and sustainable agriculture.

Nate Stucky, who taught the course and is the Farminary’s founder and full-time director, says he can’t imagine a better place to dwell on the divine than in a field, growing food.

“The depth of the Christian theological tradition affirms God as creator and sustainer and redeemer,” he says. “All of those things can be brought to life in a new way, a holistic way, in [the farm] setting. It’s just a different experience to sit in a classroom with tables and chairs discussing God as creator versus being in a garden, with all its complexity.”

Stucky grew up in Kansas, on a farm outside Wichita, and farmed full-time for two years before coming to Princeton to pursue his Ph.D. He and a Princeton alumnus first discussed the concept of a Farminary several years ago, but the seedling of an idea didn’t break ground until a mentor encouraged him to pursue his dream of taking seminary into the fields. He discovered last year that the Princeton seminary owned a 21-acre farm a few miles from campus that it had purchased as an investment a few years earlier, so Farminary was pitched to the seminary president, who loved it.

Besides the personal theological implications of studying scripture on a farm, Stucky says it doesn’t make sense to train faith leaders who are not conversant in the areas of ecology, sustainability, and food justice.

So, Why Should You Care? Religious leaders and schools are taking a deeper interest in being good stewards of the Earth. Just this week, Pope Francis issued a historic encyclical on care of the environment, with specific directives for reducing pesticide use in agriculture and studying more thoroughly the impacts of genetically engineered crops.

Stucky admits that Princeton isn’t the first school to ponder these issues, saying “the conversation at the intersection of Christian faith and agrarianism” has expanded in recent years.

Wake Forest University offers as part of its master of divinity degree a concentration in food and faith, which its website describes as “designed to equip religious leaders with the knowledge, skills, and pastoral habits necessary to guide congregations and other faith-based organizations into creating more redemptive food systems where God’s shalom becomes visible for a hungry world.” The school offers as a core component of the curriculum a hands-on course in organic gardening, food preparation, and food preservation, according to the website.

Duke Divinity School has some of the leading scholars in the area of food and faith. In 2013, Duke University played host to a conference titled Summoned Toward Wholeness: A Conference on Food, Farming, and the Life of Faith, during which classes explored topics such as how to get kids away from screens and into the garden, the morality of eating meat, how to develop a local food system, and a church’s role in food and farming.

At Yale Divinity School, students and faculty have pitched in to tend and glean food from an organic farm “because environmental stewardship is an act of faith. And because we love good food, grown well,” according to its website.

At first, the harvest at the Farminary will likely be modest enough to feed only the students and faculty, but organizers are discussing long-term uses for the food, such as donating it to local food pantries, using it to source Princeton’s seminary dining hall, or even donating it to be used in Trenton public schools.

Many details have yet to be finalized, but that’s not stopping Stucky, who says, “the seed has hit the soil and is sprouting, but we’re still not sure what fruit it will bear.”