The Daily Tar Heel

Serving the students and the University community since 1893

Tuesday January 31st

Q&A with author Fred Bahnson

Local author Fred Bahnson will discuss his new memoir “Soil and Sacrament: A Spiritual Memoir of Food and Faith” at Flyleaf Books on Thursday.

Bahnson spoke with staff writer Sarah Ang about the meaning behind his book and the benefit of community gardens.

Daily Tar Heel: What’s the story behind your new book?

Fred Bahnson: The book is really about my own spiritual quest, my own journey to find a way to become more fully alive. The garden was the overriding metaphor for my journey. It was both a metaphor for how I sought to become more fully alive, and also quite literally, the places I visited.

I visited four different gardens: Trappist, Protestant, Pentecostal and Jewish. I say garden, but I use that word in its most expansive sense because I think what’s happening in each of these places is that people are learning to become more fully alive by reconnecting with the land and the food and the community. The book was a journey to find people living like that.

I tell my own story, which is coming to understand our role on Earth as really caretakers of God’s garden. Concretely, that involved me working with a group of farmers about 12 years ago. Seeing these people with their agrarian lives, I wanted to live like that, too. That’s what inspired me to learn how to grow food, and I really discovered my calling to feed others. That helped me start the community garden.

DTH: Is this book directed to a specific type of person or religion?

FB: I’m writing from a Christian standpoint, but there are three different kinds of Christian communities and one Jewish community. Some of the folks I interviewed don’t come from any faith tradition. This is not a book of Christian doctrine or theology. It’s a story of my search to find people who were leading meaningful lives — and I found them most often in a garden.

I’m hoping that people who are interested in environmentalism will find something there. I’m hoping that people who are interested in spirituality will find something there, and then people who just love a good story. Most of the book is character profiles.

DTH: What are the benefits of community gardens?

FB: It’s really about reconnection. We live in a society in which we’re disconnected at almost every level from the sources of our food, from the land that sustains us, from meaningful community. And as a result of those three disconnects, we feel disconnected from God, or the source of our spiritual well-being.

DTH: Are environmental issues a large part of this book?

FB: Absolutely. Environmentalists would find all kinds of things in this book they could relate to. What I tried to do was get past environmentalism as a category and just thought of it in terms of becoming human. To me, the whole sustainability question is about how we learn to live more holistic lives.

DTH: Are you afraid that the book’s title might dissuade non-religious readers?

FB: I’m interested in the sweet spot where soil meets sacrament. So I’ll probably lose a few people with “sacrament,” but I didn’t want people to be surprised by the spirituality in the book.

If anything, my greatest fear was that this book would get written off as just another food or gardening book. It’s really not about gardening in the end. It’s the vehicle and metaphor and there’s a lot of gardening in it, but’s always subservient to the spiritual quest: what it means to be human, what it means to be a creature of God.

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