Wave sacramental eco-palms this Palm Sunday

March 23, 2011

"To live, we must daily break the body and shed the blood of creation. The point is, when we do this knowingly, lovingly, skillfully, reverently, it is a sacrament; when we do it ignorantly, greedily, clumsily, destructively, it is a desecration…in such desecration, we condemn ourselves to spiritual and moral loneliness, and others to want." -- from The Gift of Good Land by Wendell Berry

As a kid, celebrating Palm Sunday was always fun. Admittedly, the waving of fronds pushed us rather stoic Minnesotans a bit out of our comfort zone. But the fronds were cool, probably served as a good distraction from the sermon, and I think subconsciously appealed to our hope that something like greenery and warmer temperatures would soon make their way to the frozen north.

But as a kid I never thought about how those palms were grown or considered where they came from … just like I, and my church, didn't stop to consider the source of our coffee beans.

But there is a way to get those beautiful Palm Sunday fronds from communities that harvest them sustainably and provide a more just wage for the harvesters. Though not formally certified, palms purchased through Eco-Palms appeal to consumers for many of the same reasons fair trade coffee and tea are attractive.

The fronds are available through Eco-Palms. A number of denominations -- Episcopalians, Lutherans, Presbyterians and Methodists -- are partnering with them to promote this opportunity to integrate faith-based values with the celebration of Palm Sunday. (So far this year almost 100 Episcopal churches have ordered over 25,000 fronds.)

Wendell Berry recognizes that we have to consume -- "break the body and shed the blood of creation" -- to live. And though he was writing specifically about consuming food, his point applies to all the many ways we daily make consumer choices.

When purchasing Eco-Palms, we have an opportunity to "consume" palms "knowingly, lovingly, skillfully, reverently" such that the celebration on Palm Sunday becomes a sacrament -- a way of honoring that life is sacred. The celebration becomes richer, more holistic, and recognizes that those palms came from somewhere, were harvested by someone -- and why not see to it that that place and person are fairly treated in the transaction after all?

Most palms today are harvested from rainforests that serve as critical habitat for many species, including migratory birds. In conventional palm harvesting, workers are paid based on volume. The more fronds they cut, the more income they generate, encouraging over-harvesting and threatening the rainforest. Middlemen then transport the palms for processing, where more than half of the palms are discarded because of poor quality.

Eco-Palms' harvesters, on the other hand, gather the fronds sustainably, picking quality fronds in such a way as to ensure the ongoing health of the palm plant. The palms are processed and packaged by the communities themselves, allowing them to capture more of the profits.

Additionally, five cents of every Eco-Palm sold for Palm Sunday directly support projects that improve the lives of all community members. This money, for example, provides scholarships for students, pays a teacher's salary, or supports elderly members of the community.

And know that there are real people, real forests behind those fronds. Know that there are real communities benefiting from your purchase of Eco-Palms. Kattie Sumerfeld works for Lutheran World Relief and recently visited some of those communities. She wrote when she returned of Eliasin Visente Gonzales who told her that "Eco-Palms allow him to buy shoes and clothes for his seven children;" and she described hearing from the town council that "their kids actually stay in the communities instead of migrating to the U.S. for work."

To view a video about Eco-Palms, visit: http://vimeo.com/11081230.