Year of Plenty (Sparkhouse Press) $12.95
With poignancy and wit, Craig Goodwin relates his family’s year of living locally in the new book, Year of Plenty: One Suburban Family, Four Rules, and 365 Days of Homegrown Adventure in Pursuit of Christian Living. Frustrated after one more Christmas of buying gifts that they didn’t like and didn’t need, Craig and his wife, Nancy, decide to do what seems so rare these days: they changed their way of life. Five rules, hatched hastily over dinner one night shaped the next year of their family’s consumption: local, used, homegrown, homemade and Thailand (you’ll just have to read the book to understand that last one).
In spite of a growing genre of books about families and individuals spending a year eating locally, this book, and the Goodwin family’s experiment, is not about jumping on a cultural bandwagon. Goodwin’s experience brings a fresh perspective to the growing conversation about environmentalism and sustainable living, which is captured in the subtitle. Theirs is an “adventure in pursuit of Christian living.” Arguing that Christian faith has been largely colonized by the modernist narrative of consumption and unlimited growth, the Goodwin family deliberate steps off the treadmill and dares to ask whether there is something deeply amiss about our “normal” way of life. In a play on Wendell Berry’s well-known phrase, “eating is an agricultural act,” Goodwin declares, “eating is a theological act” (195). He goes on to explain,
For those of us who claim an ultimate allegiance to the Jesus who is redeeming all things (Col. 1:20), decisions about what we purchase or don’t purchase are vital expression of our faith. In a world where everything is being gathered up “in Christ” (Eph. 1:10) we are invited to join in, seeking justice and peace by what we gather up in our arms at the shopping mall and grocery store (195).
Books like Year of Plenty run the risk of idealizing and romanticizing what some call the “simple life,” but Goodwin’s honesty and self-deprecating sense of humor quickly dispels our fears. The author relates awkward moments when, for example, their commitment to buying only used items or making things at home from scratch crashes headlong into the sacred tradition of children’s birthday parties in which carefully chosen gifts maintain the fine balance of childhood bliss. Along the way we discover that the bold choices made by this family are not so extraordinary or heroic after all. Any suburban American family could do the same if they chose to. Yet the life the Goodwin’s chose was not easy and at the end of the year they revise their plan to accommodate some significant challenges.
Goodwin freely acknowledges that he and his wife had no idea what they were getting into. They did not prepare well for it, nor did they deliberate more than a few hours over their rules. Their execution wasn’t perfect and he recounts story after story of patience worn thin. But in spite of it all, their courage is rewarded and they discover beautiful but sometimes hidden connections between food and people, the land and human flourishing, environmentalism and devotion to God.