Palgrave United Church
Local Heroes: Members of the Palgrave United Church returning to our agricultural roots.
Palgrave United Church: One of our 2008 Local Heroes
With Respect In Creation
Movers, shakers, eaters. Minutes after winning the first-ever Local Food Hero award from Caledon Countryside Alliance, members of the Palgrave United Church environment committee pose for a portrait. It seems a bit odd at first: A church group? Local food heroes? Actually, it’s less of a leap than you might think.
Churches have long been connected to local agriculture. At one time you would have been hard-pressed to find a resident who hadn’t attended one of the many church suppers that, for decades, have taken place throughout the region. The turkey supper at Palgrave United, for example, started in 1927.
Held sometime around Thanksgiving, and often bearing the curious moniker of “fowl supper,” turkey dinner is the marquee event of the church-supper circuit. In the old days. virtually the whole meal was local, produced on the nearby farms of parishioners. Typically, it was a community event, celebrating the fruits of the harvest. As the years passed, however, food from the grocery store replaced food from the farm gate. As Reverend Shelley Roberts says, “Plastic bags of frozen peas, grown in California and bought on sale at Zehrs, became a more likely part of your church supper than anything that ever touched Headwaters soil.”
That’s something the Palgrave United Church environment committee set out to change. Reverend Roberts says the group formed almost spontaneously in 2006: “Several members of the congregation wanted to start an environmental initiative. Often we’re looking for help with these committees, but in this case nine people came out right away, including some who aren’t part of the church.” Committee member Barb Imrie adds, “There are a good group of leaders here, so it sort of fell together.”
In just two years, the group has embraced a number of environmental issues, including numerous measures to reduce consumption and waste at the church and manse, now powered by environmentally friendly Bullfrog Power. Fair trade products are now standard at church events. And education of both their membership and the wider congregation is ongoing, using tools such as Earth Hour activities, movies, presentations and worship. Even building an underpass to protect the frogs that cross a nearby road is on the agenda. Their stand-out achievement to date, however, has been a re-invention of the church supper.
In 2007, the church held its first Thanksgiving dinner featuring local food. Almost the whole meal, from turkey to peas to pie, came from within a ten-mile radius of Palgrave. “In a sense we’re returning to our roots,” says Barb Imrie. “The farmers came and ate, and by buying the food locally, we actually came out ahead on cost.” Not to mention that with no packaging to dispose of, feeding dinner to 472 people resulted in only one bag of garbage.
Since then, the church has held a beef dinner in April (with potatoes and parsnips), and a June pig roast (with strawberries), all local. “ ‘Local’ has become part of who we are now,” says Reverend Roberts.
In an era of declining church attendance, does taking a proactive approach to the environment translate into full pews on Sunday morning? “It might have an impact,” says Reverend Roberts. “We have a young congregation, with an interest in global outreach. They’re more interested in church if they feel they’re making a difference.”
Besides, she adds, “It’s the United Church creed: Live with respect in Creation.”