Interview with Duane Otto, founder of Ithaka Fellowship

Duane Otto is a pastor, farmer, and the founder of Ithaka Fellowship in Gridley, IL, where he lives with his wife and six children. He received his degree in Agriculture (BS) from the University of Illinois, and degrees in Divinity (MDiv) and Counseling (MAC) from Covenant Theological Seminary, St. Louis, MO.

1. When did you begin to be attracted to the ideas associated with the “New Agrarianism”?
I discovered the writings of Wendell Berry about seven years ago. From Berry and Zimmerman, through Lytle, Agar and Father Ligutti, my “New Agrarian” imagination grew.

2. Are there ways in which you differentiate yourself from the “New Agrarianism”?
Yes. The agrarian project reflects the dynamics of any large-scale social development. It is composed of many diverse thinkers, each possessing their own monolithic agenda and/or ideology. It’s kind of like eating fish. The bones need picking.

3. What is one way the concepts associated with the “New Agrarianism” can be translated to an urban context?
Since we live in a society that is primarily urban, and is likely to remain so for the foreseeable future, people need to understand that agrarianism is more than farming. It is primarily a mindset, an ordering of the mind that is in tune with place, the particularities of place, and God’s active presence in creation. For example, cooking and eating can be an expression of faith when practiced as an agrarian act, not simply an act of consumption. “The Spirit of Food,” edited by Leslie Fields, is an excellent book on this subject.

4. Why are you a Christian?
About thirty-five years ago the gospel exposed my sin and unveiled the glory of God’s presence. At the same time the message revealed the complete sufficiency of Christ’s atoning work to make me fully acceptable before the Father and it beckoned me to repent and trust in Christ alone as my Savior and Lord. This threefold message changed my life, and it continues to do so to this day.

5. Tell us more about Ithaka Fellowship.
Ithaka is an agrarian study centre that seeks to strengthen the interrelationship that exists between Christ, Man, and the Created World (Colossians 1:19 ff). Emphasis is placed upon wisdom theology since the order of creation, the gift of life, stewardship, and the vitality of human beings are fundamental themes throughout the wisdom corpus. Throughout the year we host Friday night lectures and special events. We also open our home to visitors and offer counseling in a farm setting. You can find us on the web at IthakaFellowship.org