TEDxManhattan Speaker Profile: Fred Bahnson

Fred Bahnson

Fred Bahnson

As TEDxManhattan approaches, we’ve asked this year’s speakers to introduce themselves by answering a few questions.  Today we feature Fred Bahnson, a writer, educator, and permaculture gardener.

1) What’s the topic you’ll be speaking about?

My talk is called “Soil & Sacrament: Four Seasons Among the Keepers of the Earth,” which is based on the book I’ve just completed by the same title, due out in Aug. 2013 with Simon & Schuster. It’s about a journey I made in 2011 to four different agrarian faith communities. From Pentecostal coffee roasters to Jewish organic farmers to mushroom-growing monks, I tell the stories of a new faith-based food movement rising up across the land. Its adherents point all of us toward more holistic ways to eat. It’s a movement that looks less like a movement and more like ten thousand small acts of love. The cast of characters at this dinner table are people who know that to grow and share food is to enter a holy country.

And what a vast and compelling country it is, a place where American spirituality is discovering itself anew on the land. While the buy local, eat organic movement is increasingly in the public eye, the faith-based food movement remains virtually unknown. At times it intersects with its larger cousin, but mostly it charts a parallel course, comprised of people who’ve neither heard of TEDxManhattan nor set foot in Whole Foods. The stories I tell are about people who view soil as a sacrament—a physical reality that channels the divine presence—but who don’t fit the liberal/conservative mold. And who don’t much care about molds anyway.

2) Why do you feel this is important?

Because faith communities are the greatest untapped resource for social change in general and for the food movement in particular.

3) Are there other projects you’re also passionate about right now?

I’m particularly excited about a new project I’m directing at the School of Divinity at Wake Forest University. It’s called the Food, Faith, and Religious Leadership Initiative, and to my knowledge, it’s the first initiative of any divinity school in the country that focuses on food. Using food as a lens through which to view a wide array of interconnected challenges–hunger, obesity, climate change, energy use, an unraveling social fabric–our vision is to equip religious leaders to help their faith communities create more redemptive food economies. We’ve only just begun and already there is tremendous energy and momentum.

4) Which other TEDxManhattan speakers are you excited about hearing? Which talks from previous years did you particularly enjoy?

All of the speakers on the marquee look good this year. From last year I especially liked Fred Kirschenmann’s talk on soil, as well as the talk by the young Birke Baehr. As a father of three young boys, I think a lot about what they eat.

5) Where can more information about your project be found?

More about my book can be found here.

More on the Food, Faith, and Religious Leadership Initiative can be found here.

Fred Bahnson is a writer, educator, and permaculture gardener. He is the author of Soil & Sacrament: Four Seasons Among the Keepers of the Earth (Simon & Schuster, 2013) and co-author of Making Peace with the Land (InterVarsity Press, 2012). Fred holds a masters in theological studies and in 2005 co-founded Anathoth Community Garden, a church-supported agriculture ministry in the Piedmont region of North Carolina. His essays have appeared in Christian Science Monitor, Orion, The Sun, Christian Century, and the anthologies Best American Spiritual Writing 2007 (Houghton Mifflin), Wendell Berry and Religion (Univ. Press of Kentucky) and State of the World 2011—Innovations that Nourish the Planet (Norton). His writing has received a number of awards, including an Award of Excellence from the Associated Church Press, a William Raney scholarship in nonfiction at Bread Loaf, a Kellogg Food & Community fellowship at the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, and a 2012 North Carolina Artist fellowship in creative nonfiction from the North Carolina Arts Council. Fred lives with his wife and three sons on a hillside in Transylvania County, where they are growing a ½ acre edible forest garden with terraced vegetable beds. In 2012 Fred joined Wake Forest University School of Divinity as director of the new Food, Faith, & Religious Leadership Initiative, whose vision is to equip religious leaders with the skills necessary to create “more redemptive food systems, where God’s shalom becomes visible for a hungry world.”

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