Hrönn took me out to the pasture to see their bred heifers. Her parents’ farm, Lundur, was similar to most Icelandic holdings, with cattle, sheep and horses. Also common, it had a milking robot, automatic calf feeders and other modern technology, as well as another familiar featureIcelandic agriculture: a church. The heifer fence, made of barbed up by leaning posts, circled the small graveyard and modest chapel.
I asked Hrönn if the heifers everShe said they must be religious, because they to the church often.
I resisted any pun on “holy cow.”
In most parts of Europe,churches were built in large towns and stately buildings meant to showcase the church’s importance. Iceland did not have populated areas and its one city, Reykjavík, only became an urban center after World War II.
Instead, nearly all Icelanderson farms in the countryside.
Power was distributed in Medieval Iceland among the farm owners, the largest among them becoming chieftains. Around 1,000 AD Christianity was declared the official religion on the island. Soon after, churches sprang up on farms all over the countryside, both to serve the local inhabitants connected to the farm, as well as to showcase the owner’s wealth and influence. It is estimated that after a few centuries every second or third farm had a church.
Due to warring chieftains creating instability in Iceland, the island willingly submitted to the Norwegian crown in the thirteenthup in Danish hands following the Kalmar Union a century later. Both governments had strong centralized churches, Iceland becoming Catholic under the Norwegians and eventually Lutheran under the Danes.
Both crowns set up official clergy infrastructure on the island. Church-owned land had farms on them as a means of financial support, the bishops and vicars being farmers themselves. They were charged with lookingboth a metaphorical and literal flock, and in some cases were leaders in sheep genetics. Regardless of where churches and farms were inextricably linked.
In the United States it is rare to see a chapel behind a farm, although the church and agriculturestarting to become connected in a different way. The National Congregational Study Survey suggests that there are nearly 400,000 churches in the US, the countryside and land. It is estimated that the Catholic Church alone owns 177 million acres globally. Some of these congregations have started to look for ways to
Farming is a difficult venture toinheriting land or having sufficient capital. As a result, there are plenty of young and ambitious people who have passion for agriculture but not the means to participate in it. Some churches, typically taxes, have allowed individuals access to unused put it to agricultural use.
California FarmLink, which works with immigrants and beginningto gain access to land and financing, has started working with faith-based place more people into agriculture.
Some churches see farming as part of theirmission. Some have partnered with local civil agriculture groups, while others have joined national initiatives such as the Christian Food Movement, the Interfaith Sustainable Food Collaborative, or Land For Good. They recognize the planting and harvesting the importance of providing both food and employment opportunities for those who may need it.
Responsible farming practices are an element of stewardship that many faith leaders see as part of their calling.
Not all of these church-associated farming activities are found in the countryside. The Black Church Food Security Network connects churches across the Mid-Atlantic states, most of them in cities, and helps them grow their own food. The produce is then given away for free or at a reduced rate to those who need it. The initiative helps provide nutritionthose who have trouble finding something to eat, as well as engaging in a community-led activity that brings people together.
The church and the farm are two buildings that have been part of human existence for a long time. In particular, they are two institutions thatthe countryside and the people in them. It only makes sense that they would be linked as humanity continues to try to figure itself out. In the same way that churches were once seen as advantageous by those who owned is now seen as beneficial by church leaders looking to support their communities.
It turns out, sometimes the plow and the pew aren’t far apart.