Cooperating with the Creator


By Barb Arland-Fye
Forty-three years ago, St. John Paul II celebrated Mass at Living History Farms near Des Moines, making a visual connection between faith and farming. Last month, the parishioners of four small rural parishes in and bordering Lee County underscored that visual connection between faith and farming, a connection that includes, ultimately, all of the faithful.

Russia’s war against Ukraine, natural and human-made disasters and deadlocked partisanship are major threats that affect all of us on planet earth and leave the least among us on the brink of famine in places such as the Horn of Africa. Even in Iowa, the breadbasket of the U.S., people are battling hunger because of rising food prices. An insightful document, “Vocation of the Agricultural Leader” (2016) speaks of the theological foundation of agriculture and its crucial role in serving the common good, in cooperation with our Creator. The document, published by International Catholic Rural Association and co-published by Catholic Rural Life, states:

“In particular, the circumstances facing the family in farming are especially distressing. In many respects, we have sought an abundant harvest in exchange for a more diminished culture of life. For generations, the Church proposed the family farm as a model of agricultural stewardship and cooperation, a human community truly oriented toward the economic, social, and spiritual good of its members and those beyond it. Today’s economic realities make such a lifestyle virtually impossible for those seeking these celebrated models of family farming. It is especially difficult for current families who seek to continue that heritage. The promotion of sustainable family farms must be one of the essential benchmarks of human-centered agricultural leadership” (No.12).

Vocation of the Agricultural Leader identifies five factors that “shape agriculture and food production around the world” and have “profound ethical dimensions … of great moral concern.” These factors are globalization of industrialized agriculture, financialization of agricultural commodities, technocracy, agricultural knowledge and technology, and ecological changes and balance. Other factors that have a bearing on agriculture and food production are state regulation, international standards and rules, food consumer movements, peasant farmer campaigns and water availability, among others.


How should we, as faithful stewards of God’s creation, respond to these concerns? The document cites the International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology report (2009). The report “Makes it clear that society must evaluate the agricultural goods and services we need under different scenarios in order to achieve the goals related to hunger, nutrition, human health, poverty, equity, livelihoods, and environmental sustainability.”

Easier said than done. In a survey of congressional candidates leading to the Nov. 8 mid-term elections, Iowa Capital Dispatch asked about their biggest concerns regarding agricultural issues. Among them: “trade, regulation, consolidation, climate change, crop diversity, inflation, foreign animal disease and the federal safety net for farmers” (

Regarding regulation in agriculture, Mitchell Hora, a young Catholic farmer in Washington County, said farmers need more flexibility, based on the unique needs of their land. “It’s important to let farmers figure out what works for them,” he said, “because no ‘one-size’ fits all.”

All of us, particularly in Iowa, would benefit from educating ourselves about agriculture, which is the “fourth-largest industry in Iowa,” Iowa Capital Dispatch reports, and “accounts for about 10% of the state’s annual gross domestic product.” Begin by studying the Farm Bill, a five-year law that will be up for renewal next year. It governs many agriculture and food programs and issues related to them. Read a primer on the Farm Bill ( The U.S. House Agriculture Committee is accepting feedback from producers, stakeholders and consumers regarding Farm Bill programs until Jan. 3, 2023 ( Also, keep in touch with members of Congress and the Iowa Legislature regarding agriculture issues ( and

Another great resource on agriculture is Catholic Rural Life (CRL), a national organization based in St. Paul, Minnesota. CRL members, rural and urban dwellers alike, help to build the Church in rural America. Paid membership ( supports CRL’s work in serving parishes, pastors, farmers, rural businesses and families. Some priests and deacons are among members from our diocese.

In his homily at the Living History Farms Mass, St. John Paul II identified three attitudes particularly appropriate for rural life — gratitude, conserving the land with care, and generosity. “While it is true here that farming today provides an economic livelihood for the farmer, still it will always be more than an enterprise of profit-making. In farming, you cooperate with the Creator in the very sustenance of life on earth” (No. 2).

Ron Overberg, who farms in Lee and Henry counties, takes that commission seriously. “I love the land. I believe (farming) is a livelihood before a business.” He views his role as caretaker. “We’re taking care of it for the good Lord.”

Barb Arland-Fye, Editor

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