Food ethics with clergy farmer and Purdue prof 

  • Courtesy of WiselyWoven via Flickr Creative Commons

During a recent exploration of food ethics, two speakers - one native to Africa the other from Indiana - agreed that "ethical food" is produced with respect for both nature and humanity and consumed with gratitude and appreciation of its origins.

At a small gathering at Euphoria Events on a recent Sunday afternoon, a group of about 20 people, some of whom drove to Downtown Indianapolis from as far away as Chicago, were treated to light appetizers as they listened to Rev. Jeff Hawkins and Dr. Gebisa Ejeta explore food ethics.

Hawkins, a Lutheran pastor and small-batch farmer from North Manchester, Ind., talked about his 99-acre farm in Wabash County, which was originally purchased in 1957 by his grandparents.

When Hawkins moved back to town after becoming reverend at a local church, he at first resisted getting back into the family business, but soon found that "hobby farming" was a welcome relief from managing a congregation.

Food produced on the farm is sold through a Community Supported Agriculture program, but the operation's primary focus is to promote a path to better living.

"I came to understand that what mattered most was health," Hawkins said. "It was a paradigm shift for me."

"When you farm for production, you make tradeoffs in terms of health. You can't have both," he continued. "If your focus is so narrow, you don't notice the tradeoff you're making, but you might not also be seeing the benefit."

Hawkins, however, is not naïve about the problems with his business model. He tries to make his farm as diverse as possible because he knows "something is going to fail every year."

"You can't have all enterprises losing money. That's not healthy either," he said.

In addition to raising livestock such as grass-fed jersey cows and egg-laying hens, the Hawkins farm also has an expansive vegetable and herb garden, where they grow everything from carrots and asparagus to basil and rutabaga.

While the Hawkins family farm focuses more on health rather than production, farmers in countries suffering food shortages can't afford that luxury.

Dr. Gebisa Ejeta grew up in one of those countries. Though he is now a faculty member at Purdue University and the director of the Center for Global Food Security, he was born in a poor, small rural community in Ethiopia.

His struggle to gain an education (he walked 12 miles to school on Sundays and walked back home on Fridays) as well as his mother's determination that he make something of himself inspired him to work hard throughout his career.

Ejeta's focus is figuring out ways to feed large numbers of people in an effective but ecological manner. He won the 2009 World Food Prize for his work in developing drought-tolerant, disease-resistant and high-yielding strains of sorghum, a staple crop in Sudan, Ethiopia, Somalia, and other African countries.

"We have a huge, growing world population that needs to be fed, and we need to do it sustainably," Ejeta said. "If there isn't a good balance and a healthy relationship there, something is lost."

One of the most obvious problems with food production, particularly in the sub-Saharan region of Africa that Ejeta specializes in, is the shortage of water for irrigation.

"We can't continue to do things the way we've done," said Ejeta. "There are prices to pay."

Another issue mentioned by Ejeta was the amount of food being wasted.

"If we only took care of food loss, we could come close to having enough to feed the population of the world," he said.

Though most of Ejeta's work is at a global level, he is alarmed at the disparity in America between the haves and have nots in terms of basics such as food.

"One of the things that is unconscionable to me is that in the wealthiest nation in the world, we have 49 million hungry Americans," Ejeta said.

While they come from different perspectives in terms of agriculture, both Hawkins and Ejeta agreed that politicians, who they say have been slow to address critical issues in food production, are unlikely to do anything unless a natural or economic catastrophe forces them to.

"We are one crisis away from a major disaster that would bring about a policy change," Ejeta said.

Hawkins added: "Economics drives policy."

The event, which was sponsored by the Indiana-Kentucky Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, was the first of five planned for this year. Each event in the series, called "Engage," will feature a different topic relevant to the communities around us.

For more information on future happenings, visit

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