Summertime family inspiration: Enjoy a ‘Year of Plenty’

How an ordinary American family of modest means
managed to ‘Think Locally, Act Globally’’s nearly here—and there’s still time to plan adventures for your whole family, even planting a garden together. Final frost dates in the nothern states passed in late May. It’s a perfect time to get Year of Plenty via Amazon.

Year of Plenty also is a terrific choice for small-group discussion. It’s the story of the Goodwin family—who you will meet in our Wednesday interview this week at ReadTheSpirit. They’re typical Americans, even though Craig in particular is popular these days as a pastor who blogs about food and faith. Their book isn’t about new media. It’s an entertaining and inspiring story about one year in which the Goodwins recaptured the richness of community values.

Why pay attention to this particular simple-living book? That’s a great question, because there are countless memoirs, these days, about trying to live simply by shunning consumer culture. Among the most famous is No Impact Man—a.k.a. Colin Beavin, the guy who went to nutty extremes of self denial and wound up with both a hit book and a movie on DVD.

Here’s the first reason you should meet the Goodwins: They’re not nutty!These values really matter to them as faithful people who believe that God wants us all to share the Earth sustainably—and sensibly. So, no, you won’t find any gross-out, whack-o passages in “Year of Plenty.” That’s this book’s strength. No one wants to live through Colin Beavin’s excesses! But, your family could duplicate what the Goodwins accomplished—and have fun doing it.

Here’s the second reason you should meet the Goodwins: By accident, because of their taste for good coffee and good rice, they wound up adding a rule to their family’s code for simple living. They decided to link their local community with one foreign country. They chose Thailand, because Nancy Goodwin once had lived in Thailand and actually knows a bit of the local language. They wove their sustainable connections close to home—and across the Pacific to a village in Thailand where their family supported a microfinance program. Then, at the end of their year, the whole family visited Thailand to see what real-life connections they had made in that village.

These two principles in their book make the “Year of Plenty” a work of genius—perhaps genius stumbled upon out of real-life necessity, but a work of genius, nonetheless. This Norman Rockwell family sewed together a patchwork quilt of principles that real people can duplicate—and that takes the century-old adage “Think Globally, Act Locally” one step further. The Goodwins—with modest means—managed to “Think Locally, Act Globally”!


Come back Wednesday to meet Nancy and Craig Goodwin in our weekly interview. But here are the 5 rules that shaped their year-long adventure …

LOCAL: We decided to buy goods from local producers, manufacturers, or growers, and we defined local as coming from eastern Washington and northern Idaho. We didn’t have a precise mileage in mind. It was basically the outer limits from which our farmers from the church farmers’ market traveled to sell goods in Spokane. We wanted to place value on things in a way that wasn’t based solely on their price, forming a new economy of consumable goods anchored in caring relationships with people we know. … The focus on local goods meant that there were many items, especially food, that would be limited by the Washington climate. Say good-bye to watermelon in January and hello to a long winter of lentils, peas and potatoes.

USED: We would buy used products, preferably from one household to another. Craigslist and eBay would be our new shopping malls. Second-hand stores and garage sales would take on a whole new significance.

HOMEGROWN: We had been novice gardeners, cultivating a small patch in our backyard for a few years. For the first time we would look to our yard as potential cropland, and our harvest as an essential component of our health and well being. The greenhouse I built the year before would now serve a vital purpose, allowing us to get an early start on our short growing season.

HOMEMADE: Those things that weren’t available by other means, we would seek to make at home. We agreed to allow some flexibility in buying the raw materials necessary to make the finished product, but we would try to get them from local sources. For example, when it came time to make our own ice cream, we bought cream from a local dairy but we settled on buying rock salt from a nonlocal source; when we ran out of vanilla we bartered with our neighbor to get what we needed.

THAILAND: There was one major glitch in our newly emerging economy of local, used, homegrown and homemade goods. The one food item we couldn’t stomach giving up was coffee. … There are several quality roasters in the Spokane area, but we soon settled on the idea of choosing an international location from which we could buy select items during our year, including coffee. We crossed off Mexico and China from our list for obvious reasons and ultimately settled on Thailand where there is a marginal Arabica coffee industry but also the best Jasmine rice in the world. Nancy lived in Thailand for two years after graduating from college, which was invaluable as we sought to learn about the region and the people who live there, the economics of their lives, and how our consumption would impact them in positive and negative ways.

MEET THE GOODWINS in our interview with Craig and Nancy.

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Originally published at, an online journal covering religion and cultural diversity.




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