“Moving Beyond a Culture of Fear and Scarcity”
A Review of
Year Of Plenty.
By Craig Good win.
Reviewed by Brent Aldrich.
Year of Plenty: One Suburban Family, Four Rules
and 365 Days of Homegrown Adventure In Search of Christian Living.
Paperback: Sparkhouse, 2011.
Buy now: [ ChristianBook.com]
There’s been no shortage of books and trends in the church’s nascent interest in food and environmental issues over the last year or so, with its own churchy language – “creation care,” “green ministries,” and “eco-palms” – just in time for the Palm Sunday service, of course. To some degree, many of these offer one consumer choice for another, albeit a fair trade or organic one, but never make it out of the model of consumption. Fortunately for this reader, Craig Goodwin’s Year of Plenty: One Suburban Family, Four Rules, and 365 Days of Homegrown Adventure in Pursuit of Christian Living starts with just such a turn away from the delights of consumerism and towards the Kingdom of God as it is embodied in the daily, local and communal. As Eugene Peterson makes clear in his foreword, “the embracing context for this story as it is told here is the Word that became flesh, moved into our neighborhood – think of it, our very backyards! – and revealed God to us.”
The basic structure of the book follows the Goodwin family’s year following a Rule – Local, Used, Homegrown, and Homemade. Part of what makes this particular adventure so delightful is that it was follows a plan hatched in three days, in the discontent after the annual Christmas season of Consumption, and tracks the literal transformation of the family’s mind over the course of the next year. And many of the small, rather mundane practices that the Goodwin family takes on are familiar to many of us: digging out a lawn for an intensive produce garden, fashioning a piñata by hand (theirs is a grotesque, melting flamingo), or giving up the convenience of a vehicle for walking and biking. Very few of these acts are heroic. Certainly none of them would fit the model of church marketing such as Goodwin describes on “Christian” t-shirts: “The implicit message in the fusion of slogans and logos is that Jesus is the supreme consumer product. The T-shirts are a recognition that the most powerful language structures and meaning-making words come from large corporations selling products” (53).
Instead, what Goodwin’s stories describe are the daily practices through which the Kingdom of God becomes visible. On the one hand, they are wonderfully ordinary – a gathering together of neighbors in the church’s parking lot Farmer’s Market – but on the other, they suggest a radical practice unlike any narrative of consumerism, individualism, or even environmentalism. And so eating, along with piñata-crafting and walking, become theological practices of everyday life, shared in the context of the life of the church.
It is exactly Goodwin’s focus on the materiality of the Kingdom of God that is a welcome addition this genre of ecological experimentation; as he writes:
“what if this focus on ordinary necessary things is the story we discover in the Bible? A story not of people escaping life to see God, but rather God meeting people in the midst of daily necessities and forming them as a people by anchoring them in these mundane realities? The pattern in the Bible of forming community is surprisingly down to earth… the formative moments are almost always around the people of God sorting out how to do necessary things for each other, especially when it comes to food” (87).
Year of Plenty points to a deeper reality beyond the confines of ‘choice’ promoted by the market (at one point Goodwin describes witnessing five brands of milk, bottled side by side, from the same cow as it were), and encourages churches to move beyond a culture of fear and scarcity and into the abundance of life found in the everyday Kingdom. There is certainly plenty of overlap with movements towards local economies, food justice, and ecological responsibility, but Goodwin reminds us that all things are being reconciled in Christ, and we have the possibility to come alongside, if only we’ll have the eyes to see it all around. To borrow from Wendell Berry, as Goodwin does frequently, “The incarnate Word is with us, / is still speaking, is present / always, yet leaves no sign / but everything that is” (Sabbaths, 1999, IV).
A book such as Year of Plenty seems ripe with potentials for accompanying images, and I’d like to acknowledge my appreciation for whoever had the good sense to use images on the cover which I take to be Goodwin’s: certainly the labyrinth garden, and a girl who can only be a daughter, smiling with huge kohlrabi in hand. I’ve lamented the dreadful images which normally take the cover spot in my FOOD ART MANIFESTO as “vaguely rural, very bucolic endless rows of a single crop, or a long landscape with a huge sky. Perhaps a tractor or plow or barn appears for good measure. These are, for all intents and purposes, generic images, in contrast to the particularity of foods, plants, people and places espoused therein.” This cover, however, has images every bit as particularizing as Goodwin’s writing.
C. Christopher Smith is the founding editor of The Englewood Review of Books. He is also author of a number of books, including most recently How the Body of Christ Talks: Recovering the Practice of Conversation in the Church (Brazos Press, 2019). Connect with him online at: C-Christopher-Smith.com