Soil to Self Blog
Permaculture And Faith
I stumbled upon permaculture by accident in 2012. At the time, we were living on ten acres of land in Nelson County and had decided to revisit the task of growing a garden and raising our own animals.
Having been raised on a dairy farm in Northern New Mexico, I had been immersed in all things farming and gardening. Hard work was the motto. The art of self-sufficiency was our way of life and, with a mother raised in the Mennonite faith and tradition, she was a master at growing a large garden and canning/preserving food. To this day, I can still hear the canners rattling and hissing away as yet another batch of tomatoes and green beans were put up for the harsh Rocky Mountain winter ahead.
Years later, as our family settled on our own piece of land, I realized that farming and growing things had never really left my blood. It was like my fingers itched to get into the soil as soon as March and warm spring days hit our patch of grass. However, unlike the rich soil of our tiny, New Mexico town, the soil we encountered was clothes-staining red. It was so heavy with clay that we were at a loss as to how to plant in this new place. We were attempting to successfully raise food on land that had only seen a passing herd of cows. Somehow, we needed a new approach. Enter permaculture.
Through our initial study of permaculture, we quickly figured out that the incorporation of sheet-mulching and organic leaf material from the woods nearby could quickly increase the soil’s fertility to then grow things quite successfully. Permaculture was a whole new way of thinking that took the traditional way of gardening I was raised with and made it a richer, deeper experience.
I can tell you that there was nothing quite like harvesting our garden that first year. While it was far from a perfect harvest, the fact that we could take a previously unyielding landscape, and see it produce bountifully, was exhilarating. However, the piece that I was not expecting, was how much the practice of permaculture resonated so deeply with my own personal faith practice. As I read more about the 3 ethical pillars of permaculture - the call to Care for the Earth, Care for People and the practice of Fair Share - I was reminded of this Biblical passage from Genesis 1:28;
“And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”
As a young girl, I was raised in church with the belief that this creation we see and experience each day has a Creator; a Creator who I could have a personal relationship with and experience, not only through faith, but also through interaction with the world around me. However, as I grew and studied Scripture for myself, I began to
understand that part of that relationship with my Creator was to answer the mandate given in Genesis to care for the earth, people, and animals He had created. In fact, if you’re a student of the Biblical text, you will find other passages that point to this call to care for the earth and God’s people throughout Scripture.
I’ll be honest and admit that we as a people of faith have not always heeded that call and the ramifications of that neglect are seen in our world today. However, for me to wait on someone else to step up to do what I feel God is saying in my life, is not to live out an active faith, but rather a disobedient one. I embrace the practice of permaculture because I feel it best expresses how I am called to care for the Earth and the people that make up my community and beyond. It is through the practice of permaculture that I feel I can authentically work in harmony with creation and the patterns of nature set forth from the beginning.
As a young girl, I spent enough time outdoors to see those patterns of nature emerge in everything we did on the farm. The coming of new, Spring calves and watching the way a garden grows - from seed to greening plant - with the help of care, water, and sun. It is when we honor these cycles of nature and how they work with one another that we have the opportunity - dare I say privilege - to enrich and heal the land instead of robbing life from it. However, just as much as permaculture and my faith is about the care of the earth, it is more importantly an opportunity for me to care for people in my life well.
Throughout the last 16 years of being a business owner and employer, I have seen how my own practice and understanding of permaculture has impacted the company I own and lead on a daily basis. We are a company that builds things but, more importantly, we strive to build-up people. By focusing on building people through job placement, skill acquisitions, and care for one another as a work community, I also answer the call of caring for people through the lense of my faith. It matters how we treat people, receive them, and choose to care for them beyond just a paycheck. If I truly believe that each person is uniquely created and has infinite worth, then my faith calls me to care for them well by building-up and serving the community God has put in my particular sphere of influence.
As I reflect on all I have learned through the last few years of studying permaculture, this quote from the Scotsman, John Muir, sums it up well for me;
“Oh, these vast, calm, measureless mountain days, days in whose light everything seems equally divine, [that open] a thousand windows to show us God.”
May I forever look through the windows of creation to its Creator as I hike the bounty of the Blue Ridge Mountains; as I bend to press my hands into the soil of this valley I call home and care for the people within my greater community.
3/30/2019 12:55:45 am
As a fellow believer raised in the Mennonite tradition (in a unique manner perhaps, as a third generation missional transplant to Baltimore City) and a fellow permaculture-stumble-upon-er (and now transplant to the Bath Valley of wild and wonderful West Virginia), I greatly appreciate your perspective and vision! Thank you for writing this piece and, through your words, encouraging me and my family in our own journey of faith and stewardship as we seek to honor the Creation as we worship the Creator.
4/1/2019 09:50:22 pm
You are welcome Matt! I am so glad the post could be an encouragement to you and your family on your own faith journey and permaculture journey as well! We love visiting West Virginia, in particular the Greenbriar River Trail.
3/30/2019 02:21:46 pm
Just want to make sure you and the other readers here know about Wendell Berry, a man and writer with a similar philosophy.
4/1/2019 09:51:36 pm
Thank you Laura for that resource suggestion - I have heard of Wendell Berry but have not read much of his works. I will be sure to look him up.
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Daniel Firth Griffith