faith & farming – foolishness or salvation?

Flower in a crannied wall,

I pluck you out of the crannies,

I hold you here, root and all, in my hand,

Little flower – but if I could understand,

What you are, root and all, and all in all,

I should know what God and man is.


I’ve been reading a lot lately. Trying to get some perspective from the other side of the fence. To clarify my thoughts and arguments about our food system, and better understand what I can do to change it.

The more I read from the folks who think we’re a bunch of louts, the more I get this feeling that they’re missing something in the big picture. Something I couldn’t quite put my finger on, but something important, something big.

It dawned on me recently that the very same thing that they chide us for is the big thing they’re missing:


Faith is notable by its absence in our modern farming systems.

No doubt, many would say that’s exactly as it should be. Farming is a matter of agricultural science and nutritional science, not faith.

I hear the disdain for our faith in their writing, it seeps from the pages of my books, all the more potent because it is never clearly said out loud.

It’s just assumed.

Now, let me say – I am not religious in the traditional sense of the word. I’m not into dogma and all the crap that comes with it.

I do, however, believe that the universe has an order unto itself, a mystery that we cannot explain or truly understand. The perfect elegance of life, the delicate balance, the daily dance of life and death is nothing short of magical to me.

When I plant a seed, gave birth to my son, held my dear Nana’s hand as she prepared to leave us . . . these moments all confirm for me that we are a tiny, but integral part of something much bigger than ourselves. We are not cogs in some giant machine. Our souls burn with the brightness of being.

Call that brightness God, Mother Earth, the harmonies of theoretical particles . . . In my mind it is all the same.

Now, the rational folks who disagree with us, speak of this faith as though it’s a relic of childhood, one that ought to be left behind.

I don’t agree. And I don’t think its a faith or science either / or choice as they’ll lead you to believe, either.

When I listen to the words of some of the greatest scientific minds we have ever seen, I hear faith. Stephen Hawking talks about string theory, for particles laymen know as “The God Particle” or Higgs Bosun particle. They found evidence of it recently, by the way. Einstein reminded us that “imagination is more important than knowledge.”

We don’t have to remove faith from the equation to have a thriving food system. In fact, I’d say the opposite is true. We don’t need robots tending our fields, picking weeds and bugs. We need living beings tending other living beings with respect, care and attention.

Thinking that we know it all, that we can break down that dance of life and into observable, measurable pieces is simply arrogant and makes us and our food system vulnerable to harm. We don’t truly understand the dance we’re in. I think any scientist will tell you there is a difference between understanding, and seeking to understand.

We are still seeking. The moment we think we have it all figured out, we need to begin our search anew.

The polar ice-caps are melting, the mountain glaciers
Drip into rivers; all feed the ocean ;
Tides ebb and flow, but every year a little bit higher.
They will drown New York, they will drown London.
And this place, where I have planted trees and built a stone house,
Will be under sea. The poor trees will perish,
And little fish will flicker in and out the windows. I built it well,
Thick walls and Portland cement and gray granite,
The tower at least will hold against the sea’s buffeting ; it will become
Geological, fossil and permanent.
What a pleasure it is to mix one’s mind with geological
Time, or with astronomical relax it.
There is nothing like astronomy to pull the stuff out of man.
His stupid dreams and red-rooster importance : let him count the star-swirls.

– Jeffers

6 thoughts on “faith & farming – foolishness or salvation?

  1. growing grace farm

    Love this one, mama! You should read Gardening Eden: How Creation Care Will Change Your Faith, Your Life and Our World by Michael Abbate–he espouses some of the similar ideas you embrace here.

  2. D.T. Pennington

    Thanks to my own experiences in gardening, growing food, cultivating soils, etc I have let my mind run with questions I long since thought dead. I lost my faith over a decade ago, been an atheist since, but watching a garden grow causes tendrils of questions spread into other areas of life.

    There is a lot I don’t understand – and while there is a perfectly scientific reason behind it, for the moment I am content in letting the sense of wonder wash over me.

    1. The Slow Foods Mama Post author

      That’s a lovely way to think about it . .

      As I said, I’m not “religious” – (a spiritual-agnostic maybe? Is there such a thing?) But I think there is value in that sense of wonder and curiosity you speak about. We lose something when we surrender that.

      I’ve always loved the Robert Fulgam line “remember the little seed in the plastic cup. The root goes down and the plant goes up and nobody really knows how or why, but we are all like that.” That’s where my sense of faith lies. Trusting that life will find a way.

      Each one of us is a seed reaching for the sun in our own unknowing way.

  3. Bridget Manley

    Thank you for this. Faith and science/reason are not mutually exclusive; rather, when exercised with humility and wonder, they reinforce each other. I also agree that focusing solely on the mechanics of agriculture (and, I might add, sacrificing careful growing for convenience — thanks a lot, ConAgra) has sucked the life out of what was once both a viable industry and a rich way of life. Keep writing — this stuff is good. 🙂

    1. The Slow Foods Mama Post author

      Humility . . there’s a word we don’t hear enough of in our culture.

      It’s a shame that the conversation seems to have become entrenched in the either/or rather than nurturing the symbiotic relationship that these two ways of looking at and experiencing the world really have.

      Thanks for the encouragement!


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