Earth Day 2022: A Personal Reflection On Restorative Justice Through Environmental Stewardship

By Jess Meeth, DFLA National Communications Director

Where an empty abandoned lot used to sit, now lies a beautiful and flourishing garden filled with trees, plants, flowers, fruits, and vegetables.  

On Saturday, April 9th, I joined a group of Jesuits and young adults from Christus Ministries in spending the afternoon in service and solidarity at ALMA Backyard Farms. 

ALMA Backyard Farms is an urban farm in Compton, CA. It was founded in 2013 by two Loyola Marymount University (LMU) alumni, Erika Cuellar and Richard Garcia. According to its website, “ALMA exists to re-claim lives of formerly incarcerated people, re-purpose land into productive urban farms, and re-imagine community as a place for people and plants to thrive.”

Inspired by Jesuit Fr. Greg Boyle and his non-profit, Homeboy Industries, ALMA is bridging the gaps between people on parole and people experiencing food insecurity in Los Angeles County. Although ALMA invites people of all backgrounds and beliefs, the ethos of the organization is largely modeled after Pope Francis’ encyclical Laudato Si’: On Care for Our Common Home.

ALMA’s training program focuses on restoring formerly incarcerated lives through hands-on technical education in agriculture, landscaping, and carpentry. The participants have the chance at attaining gainful employment and becoming self-sufficient.  

After learning about ALMA’s programs, my group and I got our hands dirty (pun intended) with composting, gardening, and harvesting organically grown produce for ALMA’s Farm Stand.

ALMA’s Farm Stand is a place where ALMA’s fresh produce, flowers, locally baked breads and pastries, pantry staples, and sustainably-made household items are distributed to underserved communities and restaurant partners at affordable prices. 

As a Whole Life Democrat, I was drawn to ALMA’s mission of connecting restorative justice with environmental stewardship and food insecurity. Truly no life or land is wasted at ALMA. 

After our group helped serve alongside the ALMA team, we gathered for a time of reflection. I opened up about the difficulties and dichotomies of being pro-life and a Democrat — that it seems like climate action, conservation, and sustainability are brushed aside in the fight to protect life in the womb. And on top of that, I often feel pressured to prioritize abortion instead of other social justice issues, especially when it comes to political candidates and elections. Typically, my fellow Democrats will tell me, “You can’t be a Democrat unless you support abortion as healthcare and reproductive freedom.” Conservatives will tell me, “The Democratic Party will never change. Just switch and become a Republican.” It is frustrating to be shunned and shut out. When people find out that I’m a pro-life Democrat, they usually ask, after a moment of shock, where I stand on other issues. My answer: Restorative justice and environmental stewardship are main reasons why I am a Democrat. Abortion, the dealth penalty, euthanasia, racial equality, economic equality, and climate action should not be at odds with each other. Any advance on these issues is improving and valuing human life and human dignity. 

Being pro-life means different things to different people. As someone who is pro-life, I stand firm in the position that human life and human rights begin in the womb. But as someone who is Whole Life, I recognize that social justice doesn’t stop there and that it can’t stop there. There is pro-life, and there is Whole Life. We as Whole Life advocates follow a Consistent Life Ethic and oppose the death penalty and euthanasia, in addition to abortion. 

There is also the importance of seeing the earth as our common home. And that’s why we must all care for it for both current and future generations. When we care for our common home, we are caring for human life — whether inside or outside the womb. As Whole Life advocates, “we cannot protect human life if we do not protect the planet we all share.” It’s a matter of connecting the two, not choosing between them.