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May 25, 2011

A Pastor’s Year of Plenty

In setting aside a year to live intentionally, Pastor Craig Goodwin made discoveries around food and his faith

  • Pastor Craig Goodwin with Honolulu the hen.

  • Year of Plenty.

  • The Goodwin family garden.

  • The Goodwin family in front of their chicken coop.

by Karen Louden Allanach

It was Christmas 2007 and Pastor Craig Goodwin had a holiday hangover. He felt bloated from the over-consumption of stuff. The conveniences of modern life had dulled his senses. Over dinner one night during that winter break, Goodwin and his wife Nancy had a heart-to-heart; they both felt disconnected from the Advent season, disconnected as a family and from each other. 

They had a vision for a very different 2008. It would be a year of “intentional living,” as Goodwin describes it in his book, Year of Plenty.

Goodwin is a pastor of a 500-member congregation, Millwood Presbyterian Church in Spokane, Wash. He and Nancy hatched a plan, complete with rules, to simplify and reconnect their lives, and those of their two young daughters, by living locally—shopping, growing and or producing all of their goods from local resources for a year. The only exception was that they would give their business to the people of Thailand with purchases of products from that country. At the end of their year-long experiment, the family would take a trip to Thailand.

Our goal was not to reject the economic realities of the world but rather to enter them intentionally with eyes open to the impact of our purchases…” Goodwin writes.

The Goodwin rules were that everything they used had to be local, used, homegrown or homemade.

“The rules forced us to be connected to each other,” Goodwin says.

It was not easy. There were moments of frustration. The chocolate chips and sugar ran out. The aluminum foil and plastic wrap ran out. There was no going to Toys R Us, Target or Wal-Mart for children’s birthday presents or party decorations. No new clothes. How would you do?

But as they were making changes as a family, something happened. They became connected to their neighbors, to the animals, to their environment and to God.

“The gift of our year is we made all these friends,” Goodwin says. While saying grace at the table, Goodwin says they were “thanking God for all the farmers and the people we came to know.”

Home is where the hen house is

One of the family’s beautiful discoveries was living with chickens. They chose to raise hens for eggs in their backyard. What they didn’t expect was they would become so attached to the animals.  Pastor Goodwin built a henhouse in the yard, and in moved a handful of hens with names like Chrysanthemum, Cheesy and Eagle. What once were “mysterious, distant farm animals” became part of the family. “We saw how much they enjoyed their lives.”

"Somehow having our own chickens, seeing them bathe in the afternoon sun, scratch with glee in the dirt, screech with pride when they lay an egg, and run like big clumsy Weebles had changed my appetite. It took welcoming chickens into our household economy to change my behavior."

Goodwin also faced zoning obstacles. Even though he had a coop in his suburban yard, he wasn’t exactly following the letter of the law with regards to chickens. It was not until March, 2011 when the Spokane Valley City Council approved a measure to modify a restrictive ordinance which makes it easier for residents to raise backyard chickens.

Supporting better systems for humane farming is concurrently happening at the state level as well.

State measures

Washington for Humane Farms, a coalition of veterinarians, family farming, food safety , environmental and animal welfare groups, are working to place a measure on the state’s ballot which would require that egg-laying hens have enough room to extend their wings—and that eggs sold in the state are produced in compliance with this modest standard. It would prevent Washington factory farms from cramming over six million egg-laying hens into tiny cages where they can barely move for their entire lives.  Find out more at YESon1130.com.

Goodwin writes in his book: "I suspect that one of the reasons the treatment of meat animals in recent years has often had so little dignity is that consumers, like myself, have become far removed from the experience of these animals. We have exiled farm animals from our living spaces."

Farmers’ market

Several years before their year of local living, a high-school student in the Millwood congregation had an idea to start a farmers’ market. That experiment has blossomed into a vibrant community endeavor, which celebrated its fifth anniversary in the church parking lot on May 18, 2011. In addition to the market, Millwood has expanded its reach with a large community garden that has started in a nearby vacant lot.

“Food was the most powerful and compelling part of the journey for us,” Goodwin says. “The Church should be in the lead on these issues and on animal (issues) as well.”

Finding your way

Pastor Goodwin’s suggests starting your own experiment in consumption. “Get to know your own community,” he says. “Be a part of it and improve it.”

Millwood Presbyterian also has a Second Harvest program and a series on stewardship of the Earth which includes God calling us to care for the animals.

Goodwin says that their work through the different programs has resonated with members of the congregation and has led to changes in the way some people in the church think about industrial animal agriculture.

“There have been behavior changes (on these issues) among members of the congregation.”

There is a new study guide for A Year of Plenty, designed for church-based small groups, according to the guide. Also, see The HSUS Animal Protection Ministries: A Guide for Churches for more ideas for your faith community or to tell a story of how your church is helping animals in your community.

The church

Goodwin said his hope for the Church is to “challenge our vision” when it comes to these issues of caring for animals and the environment and being able to do something about it right in your local community. 

He cites the Apostle Paul in Colossians 1: 15-17: He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers—all things have been created through him and for him. He himself is before all things and in him all things hold together.

“All things are created in Christ,” Goodwin says. “Nothing gets left out. So you can’t say—that is not important.”

A year changes everything

In the beginning of their experiment, Goodwin says in his book, “We wanted to break free of that hunger, that need for more.” Did he succeed?

“Yeah, I think we did,” he says. “We were limping toward the end.” But as he reflected on that year he says, “It turned our lives upside down in the most wonderful way.”


Pastor Craig Goodwin writes a blog, Year of Plenty,that focuses on food, faith and justice in the Inland Northwest region. His family’s story has been featured on NPR, PBS and in The New York Times. In addition to being a Presbyterian pastor, he is a farmers’ market manager, master food preserver and a fire chaplain. He has a Doctorate in Missional Leadership from Fuller Theological Seminary. 

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