The word ‘cultivate’ calls to mind the care which the farmer has for his land in order that it bear fruits and that they be shared: how much passion, how much attention, how much dedication in all that this demands! That familiar relationship is formed and the earth becomes “sister” earth. -Pope Francis, January 31, 2015
Recently, James Ennis, executive director of Catholic Rural Life (CRL), a non-profit organization dedicated to serving rural Catholic communities, traveled from Minnesota to California to meet with agricultural and church leaders. During these meetings, Ennis presented “Vocation of the Agricultural Leader,” a document CRL created with the International Catholic Rural Association and countless other organizations.
The document promotes the importance of farming as a sense of calling, a vocation. It also emphasizes the importance of taking care of our common home. Pope Francis’ teachings were incorporated in “Vocation of the Agricultural Leader” and the Pope’s Encyclical, Laudato Si, heavily influenced the final document.
Agricultural leaders have had to balance making a profit with being stewards of the land. Ennis said, “Our agricultural leaders have a responsibility to grow food, but also to care for family, for business and the environment.”
Many obstacles face growers and laborers in California. Extreme drought followed by a winter of heavy rain, coupled with rising costs and associated paperwork as well as fears of stricter immigration policies are some of the biggest concerns.
Ennis met with a handful of central valley farmers and said that several years of drought have taken a toll on them. Some farmers have cut back on production, while others have lost significant amounts of money. The recent heavy rains haven’t been enough to make a large impact on relieving the drought. “It will take several years of good rain to replenish aquifers,” he said. “Later this year, we will see if there has been significant damage due to the significant rain.”
California’s minimum wage increase as well additional environmental regulations has taken a toll on agricultural growers in various ways. Some larger operations have chosen to contract with outside companies to manage the hiring of workers. According to Ennis, some growers have hired additional office personnel to keep up with the rising amounts of paperwork. This puts a heavy burden on many farmers, especially those mid-sized family farms who are already struggling. “The pressure on farmers is intense because of costs,” Ennis said.
Growing concerns regarding the nation’s immigration policies are creating much uncertainty among agricultural leaders and farm workers. Currently, there is not a national Secretary of Agriculture to advocate on behalf of the agricultural community. Because of this, many workers are fearful that their families will be torn apart. Ennis hopes for a reasonable immigration policy that recognizes the rural agricultural community. “We would like a fair policy that cares for relationships of the family,” he said.
Ennis said it is vital that agricultural growers and laborers continue to be stewards of the land. The document highlights the importance of the environmental and social impacts of farming and also encourages agricultural leaders to treat workers with justice and fairness.
By looking at nature and caring for the land like family, farms will continue to thrive for generations. Ennis said, “It makes all the difference in the world if they see the land as a gift.”
To learn more about Catholic Rural Life, visit their webpage.