Monday, July 20, 2015

A Day on the Farm

Victoria is the "bare" spot to the right; Sooke is towards the bottom left
My wife, Amelia, and I spent this past Sunday volunteering at the Sooke Farm and Food Garden
Tour. This is a semi-annual event, where the small, usually organic, agriculture operations in the Sooke Region (about 20 miles west of Victoria) throw open their gates and let the public in and learn as much as they can about growing food. (You can learn more about the tour and about Sooke's local farmers on the Sooke Food CHI website -- CHI stands for "Community Health Initiative" and is pronounced "chee".)

We greeted people at the ALM Organic Farm, and handing out maps containing their "mission statement". That statement includes a commitment to "live lightly on the land."

Nearly 200 people visited ALM Organic Farm
on this blazing-hot Sunday
It reminded me of the Biblical commandments about land use: "replenish the earth and subdue it" (Gen. 1:28), which I take to mean that we're not to take from the earth more than we're able to put back; and the Land Sabbath mandated in Leviticus -- that we're to work the land for six years, then not touch it for one year (and in that sixth year, the land will produce enough to carry you through to harvest time in the first year of the next seven-year cycle).

I saw that some portions of ALM farm were lying fallow, so I asked Marika, one of the workers, how much of the land they leave fallow and for how long. She replied that they try to leave 25% of the land fallow for two years, then work it for 5 while another portion rests. That doesn't just rest the land, you understand: it also reduces the demand for water, which has turned out to be a big deal here on the not-so-Wet Coast.

Through all that, I couldn't help thinking how close that was to the Land Sabbath, and that got me thinking some more: in Chapter 7 of my book, A Very Convenient Truth, or, Jesus Told Us There'd be Days Like These, so Stop Worrying About the Planet and Get With His Program!, I pose the question, How do we observe a land Sabbath in an urban environment?

One suggestion is to reduce one's food purchase -- and therefore, the demand on the land -- by one-seventh, thereby reducing the demand on the land by that much. But another way, that occurred to me as I greeted the people, is to patronize small farms like ALM and farmers' markets, whenever possible. These are people who understand the give-and-take nature of food production and supporting their operations and their practices will, by extension, be your way of ensuring the land gets regular rest.

Of course, not all places are handy to small farms or farmers' markets: these people have little choice but to purchase from the larger operations. But supporting the small farms where possible will reduce demand on the larger operations, which will, in turn, reduce their demands on the land and should also, theoretically, reduce prices.

I suggest doing this prayerfully, asking the Lord to bless the farmers you patronize. That way, you're doing it for the glory of the Lord (as opposed to doing it to show off how environmentally aware you are), and you're ensuring that the promise of the Land Sabbath will be fulfilled.

One final thing: do you notice how, in Genesis 1:28, "replenish the earth" comes before we subdue it? Making sure we can replenish what we take out of the land has to be topmost in our minds, coming before satisfying our needs.

The world's focus has been on climate change for nearly a quarter-century, but that focus is way too narrow for the changes we see around us. We need to be more mindful of the way we're treating Creation as a whole, but we also have to be aware that the changes we see are not a sign of man's destructiveness so much as they are a reminder that God is always on the move.