Millennials (born between the early ‘80s to early 2000s) are now the largest generation in the workforce. So what do they think about creation care? Meet Benjamin McCullough and Miranda Crocket. Benjamin is a city kid turned farmer and the new coordinator of Cedar Haven Farm. Miranda is part of the team that co-founded 541, a social venture in a low-income neighbourhood in Hamilton, Ontario.
What sparked your interest in the creation care and social justice work that you are now involved with?
Benjamin: I grew up going to Ontario Pioneer Camp where you are immersed in the natural world. I started teaching classes and directed our wilderness program. That’s where I learned a lot and really fell in love with the in-depth knowledge of nature and creation. The past two summers I was an intern, and now full-time coordinator of Cedar Haven Farm, which is a hub of A Rocha in Ontario.
Miranda: I went to university for International Development and Africa Studies with the intent of working overseas. I moved back to Hamilton after graduation and realized the levels of poverty that existed in Hamilton were not so unlike what I saw in Africa and other developing areas. That kind of struck me, led me to be part of the team that co-founded a social venture – 541. We’re a not-for-profit restaurant in the lowest income neighbourhood. We’re best known for our pay it forward system where customers who have money can donate, to pay a meal forward to somebody who can’t afford one.
Has your work impacted your lifestyle in any way? Are there any changes you have made?
M: In the past year, I’ve started gardening and trying to grow our own food. We live in the same neighbourhood as 541 – which I think is also part of a lifestyle change, specifically among millennials, a growing trend of wanting to be in the same neighbourhood or community that you are serving. We live in an urban and industrial area and are trying to find ways to still grow food. You have to get creative. At 541, we’ve taken an abandoned parking lot behind our building and built raised garden beds on it and we’ve been growing food for the restaurant.
B: We partner with 541. We are growing vegetables specifically for them…tomatoes, peppers, kale. This past summer I grew mostly potatoes because breakfast is the biggest meal of the day for 541. Right now at the farm we are focusing on environmental education because there’s a big demand in the city for kids to get out into nature. Part of our education is a program called Operation: Wild, specifically for those with limited access to nature such as inner city kids, adults with disabilities and newcomers to Canada. Last summer we had 20-30 refugees come to the farm and experience Ontario nature.
M: We have a lot of at-risk youth in our neighbourhood and last summer 541 was able to take a group up to the farm. These are kids who rarely get out of the city. Ben was able to show them, “This is what a carrot looks like when it’s in the ground,” and it is something that the kids still talk about. It was a highlight of their summer. We hope to do more of that and a more formalized sort of summer camp.
What are some of the comments you’ve heard from other millennials, things they are being spurred to do regarding creation care?
M: Many would not use that wording [creation care] specific to the Christian base, but that sort of idea is a part of life for millennials, of taking care of the environment, eating organic produce, trying to grow food. The whole idea of farm to table is very en vogue…but I don’t think the connection between your Christian faith and taking care of the environment is immediately obvious … for me it was this definite light bulb moment, that caring for creation doesn’t just mean people, it means the world that we live in. And if you take care of the world that we live in, that will also affect people because so much of global poverty is exacerbated by environmental factors. So it’s all kind of connected and realizing this gave me a new passion for the environment.
B: I think there’s a lack of this kind of education in the church. No one I’ve talked to can remember hearing a sermon on creation care or the environment…there’s been such a focus on people care, but I think there’s a growing sense that the creation crisis in the world is becoming prominent. People are looking for ways to mend that broken relationship and I think that’s where this generation has found some interest. For A Rocha, the idea is that people care and creation care shouldn’t be separate, that they should be talked about together.
Is there something coming up in creation care, or things you or your peers are involved in, that signal trends, in terms of lifestyle and environmental impact?
B: There is a movement in being intentional in your local community and that means a lot of things, like shopping locally, which means you go to your local store which hopefully sells local things and you buy things from people you know rather than driving to a mall.
M: In Hamilton, there’s something called the Mustard Seed Co-op that Ben and I are members of. It’s a grocery store that has a focus on locally grown and produced items. In the summer most of the produce is local; all of the meat is ethical [free range; ethically treated] and local. A lot of our peers will shop there because it’s important to them, especially to find meat that is local. It’s more expensive, but as a result some of our friends, and Ben and I, eat less meat in order to eat better quality meat. Additionally, on the topic of trends, I think communal living is a huge part… Ben and I own our home and we rent out two bedrooms to friends and we all live together. I think most of our friends live in similar situations.
And an ah-ha moment?
B: The connection of people over care for creation has inspired me. It’s just such common ground, something that everyone can bond over. When we had Syrian refugees up to the farm, I had difficulty connecting with them because of the language barrier until I started walking through the garden with a couple of the gentlemen. Two of them were farmers back in Syria and they were commenting
– I don’t know if they were commenting positively or negatively on my vegetables (with a laugh) – but then we started walking and each naming things together and there was just this connection.
There’s a lot of gloom and doom, about the environment and wars, people get overwhelmed. What would be one practical step that we can take in terms of our engagement in creation care?
M: I would say that, as Christians, we are part of this ongoing reconciliation of things to God, and that’s not something that we’re just waiting for at the end of the world. God is going to make everything new and as Christians we have the opportunity to be part of this ongoing redemption of things. So that means relationships and inner city poverty, but it also means the environment, and it can be things like your consumer habit, growing your own food, bringing refugees into nature – all these things contribute to this momentum. The step can be as easy as joining the momentum. It might not be one big change that you make. It could be those everyday choices that you make. It’s one more change.