Rural Life


Catholic Reflections on Food, Farmers, and Farmworkers*

Agriculture touches all our lives. The questions and choices in the world of agriculture have fundamental ethical and human dimensions.

The bishops challenge a lack of awareness on the part of our Church and our nation."They focus on the ethics of how food and fiber are produced, how land is protected, and how agriculture is structured; compensated, and regulated to serve the common good."

The central focus of the moral examination is on the life and dignity of the human person as the pivot of any moral examination. Linked to that focus are key principles such as the social nature of each person, a commitment to the common good, the recognition of the family as the foundation of society, the principle of solidarity, the integrity of creation, the option for the poor. In the light of these principles the bishops recommit themselves to advocate for policies that encourage family farming on a human scale, rights of workers to safe working conditions, decent wages and benefits, the right to organize, farming as a way of life and as a vocation.

Building upon these principles the bishops advocate a global food system that provides basic nutrition for all. Food security is the term normally used here. Every person has the right to food.

Farming practices should protect the air, land and water as well as to provide wholesome food. Sustainability is the term normally used here. Sustainable agriculture is a priority of the bishops' policies.

Agricultural policies should help insure basic income security. A just price for their work is a priority for the bishops.

Economic development in rural communities should be the focus of public policy. Public policies should encourage a wide variety of economic development strategies in rural areas. Family farming should be a part of the strategy for rural development.

Caring for God's creation is a central calling for believers. Agricultural and food policies should reward practices that protect human life, encourage soil conservation, improve water quality, protect wildlife and maintain the diversity of the ecosystem. Widespread participation and dialogue in the development of agricultural policies should be encouraged. People have a right to shape their own lives and livelihoods.

*"For I Was Hungry and You Gave Me Food" (Mt. 25:35), United States Conference of Catholic Bishops Statement approved in November, 2003. to order, call toll-free 1-800-235-8722. Copyright 2003, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. All rights reserved.


The Rural Life Office of the Diocese of Belleville seeks to increase awareness of the plights of farming families and rural communities. As noted by the Illinois Bishops:

We, the Catholic Bishops of IL, find ourselves called to acknowledge our State's rich legacy of rural life and abundant food production. Secondly, we must express our growing sense of anxiety regarding our collective stewardship of our state's rich agricultural resources and the people who nurture and harvest these resources for the common good.

We cannot fail to acknowledge our immediate concerns regarding the threats we see to Illinois' rich and life-giving legacy of family-based, owner-operated food production. The forces affecting farm production and marketing in IL today not only have immediate and long-term effects on our food supply, they threaten to undermine a cherished way of life. What is at stake is the existence of family-based, owner-operated farms. Today their welfare is being severely tested by a series of factors: (Issues)

  • The shift from small and moderate-sized, family-based production to industrial-scale, factory-like systems;
  • The increase in concentrated ownership of the means to produce food in our state and union;
  • Vertical integration of production, processing, marketing and retailing;
  • The trend toward corporate farming, which creates concern about market control and leaves little room for independent producers.

The economic toll is real, but the stress does not end there. Low prices and rising uncertainty about the future place a toll on personal relationships, marriages and the fabric of family life.

What We Can Do

1. Pray that those who make farm policy recognize the need to preserve family farming as the backbone of our nation's food supply. Also that all of us, food producers and consumers alike, recognize our fundamental solidarity and unity of purpose.

2. Educate yourselves and your children about the realities and most importantly of the connections between sound farm polices and a safe, stable and cost-effective food supply.

3. Advocate for just, sensible governmental policies that help assure the economic health of family farms.

4. Ask your state and federal representatives and candidates for political office about their stand on food and farm issues.

- excerpts from That Abundance May Flourish, a Catholic Perspective on Rural Life in Illinois (for full text, contact the Catholic Conference of Illinois, 65 East Wacker Place, Suite 1620, Chicago, IL 60601; 312-368-1066).


Fr. Zwilling

The National Farm Worker Ministry (NFWM)
438 N. Skinker Blvd.
St. Louis, MO 63130 

National Catholic Rural Life Conference 

Governor's Rural Affairs Council
Room 214 State House
Springfield, IL 62706-4700