BLUE EARTH - When Alex Ehrich was younger, he gardened at his grandfather's place outside Blue Earth and baked bread for the farmers' market. Now, he's using that experience, coupled with a desire to improve the planet and live out his faith, by working as a sustainable food coordinator in Central America.
"A great deal of my life, I was angry at my faith," Ehrich said. "It was people of faith who cared about the things I cared about that kept me in the faith. My faith is a huge motivation and driving factor in my work.
"Oftentimes, it can be very depressing to see people of faith who don't care or have a negative view of the environment," Ehrich said. "Through conservation efforts, I've come to see God in new ways."
These beliefs are what that led him to Belize.
"I studied Biblical languages in college," said Ehrich, a 2007 graduate of Blue Earth Area. "It's the slow track to get into seminary and become a pastor."
While attending North Central University in Minneapolis, he got into the environmental movement, interning twice with Restoring Eden, a faith-based environmental organization. The first internship in 2010 revolved around food and faith; in 2011, Ehrich traveled the Midwest attending Christian music festivals.
"We educated people about the use of coal in power plants," he said, and circulated a petition to support clean air and water by updating power plants.
He also became involved with Christians for Environmental Stewardship and cooked vegetarian meals for a weekend.
"Had a hoot doing that," Ehrich said.
A friend said he should apply with Creation Care Study Program because a position had just been created in Belize.
Ehrich was working a dead-end job in Minneapolis, so he applied the same day the job was posted and scored an interview.
"On a leap of nothing less than faith, I put in my two weeks' notice at work," Ehrich said. "Lo and behold, a week later, the first of February, I get an e-mail: 'We'd love you to come.'
"Thirty-one days after I heard about the job, I was on a plane."
He has 17 students this semester - up from seven the semester before. The program has three components: biology, sustainable development, and faith.
"There are two theology classes, God and Nature 1 and 2," he said. "It's assumed the students are some form of Christian.
"My job is to fulfill a couple of duties," Ehrich explained. "All our relationships try to foster shalom (peace). The way we eat and consume our food can be an ethical issue."
Ehrich follows the food ethic guidelines in buying or growing the food. He's started a garden with a number of vegetables, manages a kitchen staff of two, and is developing a working relationship with the area farmers. He researches the types of vegetables in the area and keeps up fair local prices.
"We keep the dollars in there," Ehrich said. "That's an ethical decision.
"World problems can be depressing, but what's exciting is when you meet a person and it becomes about 'how do I treat my neighbor?'
"My experience with Restoring Eden and organizing things for Earth Day, these things start out as hobbies, and turn into things you can do," Ehrich said.
"God has written two great books in this world," he said. "The book of scriptures and the book of nature. In our culture, it's so hard to slow down enough to listen to what the world is saying to us. That's a spiritual discipline, slowing down and taking delight in God's creation."
As much as he enjoys what he does, the program doesn't run in the summer, so Ehrich decided to come home and visit with his grandparents, Gilbert and Ramona Ehrich of Blue Earth, and parents, Vickie and Chad Taylor of Winnebago.
He heard Nancy Steinke would be directing "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat" for the Town and Country Players, and volunteered to be in the choir or wherever else she needed him.
"Got an e-mail from Nancy, 'You're gonna be Joseph. When will you be home?'" Ehrich said with a laugh.
"Joseph" runs Thursday through Sunday, and Ehrich will be on a plane the day after it wraps, back to focusing on his "life-giving" work in Belize for at least six more months.
"God is a good God that made all of creation, not just humans, so we could delight in it all," Ehrich said. "It's part of our job to protect it, love it and delight in it with the same delight God has. That's exciting."