The Redeeming the Dirt Conference was held at Poplar Point Camp near Rockford, Alabama August 7-9, 2014. Rockford is located in Coosa County on Highway 231 about twenty miles south of Sylacauga. Coosa County borders Clay County where my farm is located, so I decided to sleep in my own bed in our home near the farm and commute to the conference. One could easily assume that I heard about the Christian agriculture conference because of its proximity to my farm and my associations there. I didn’t. Another probable source of information would be my connections in the United Methodist Church in that area. However, once I learned about the conference I contacted the district superintendent of the Southeast District that includes Rockford and informed him about it. The conference was non-denominational so he, though interested, had not heard about it. My knowledge of the event came by way of two men who are part of a network of Christian farmers and homesteaders. Tony Konvalin of Kentucky contacted me after reading my book The Land That Calls Me Home and told me about Scott M. Terry, an organic dairy farmer in New York who hosts the Christian Farm and Homestead Radio program every Friday evening at 7:00 (central time) on blogtalk radio. Scott invited me as a guest on his talk show in May to discuss topics addressed in my book. They told me about Noah Sanders, his book Born Again Dirt, and the Redeeming the Dirt Conference he would host in August in Rockford, Alabama. I registered for the event in June and protected the dates from a lot of competition so I could attend.
I arrived at the Conference earlier than most guests and was able to meet Noah and some of the conference presenters at registration. Noah asked me to place copies of my book on the book table for conference attendees to purchase. I had only packed about twenty books and they sold out rather quickly. I was finally able to meet Tony Konvalin with whom I had corresponded through social media and on the radio program in May. He only recently moved from California where he had been a church planter and pastor to Kentucky where he is developing a small farm with plans of farming full-time. Tony has written a great review of the fellowship and teaching provided by the conference on his blog which you can read at http://www.cultivatedforgod.com/2014/08/thoughts-on-the-redeeming-the-dirt-conference/. I will focus my remarks about the conference on relationships that were developed at the conference and some of the revelations God has given some faithful farmers who have a heart for Him, for the land, and for God’s people.
The first official conference event was the evening meal on Thursday, August 7. There was wonderful conversation at the table with a variety of people, some of whom are interested in but have not yet found a way to start farming and others who have been farming sustainably on a small-to-large scale for years. The first presenter I met was Jack Dody of Abundaculture who lives off the grid in Colorado Springs, Colorado. He introduced me to the keynote speaker for the event, Brian Oldreive (pronounce ole-dreve) of Foundations for Farming and Crag Deall who works with Brian. Both are farmers from Zimbabwe in Africa. Other presenters whom I would meet later in the conference were Chuck Bentley of Crown Financial and a young farmer and entrepreneur Robert Bruce Davis who founded Agstrong that produces organic canola products.
On the first evening, I met fellow conference participants from Colorado, North Dakota, North Carolina, South Carolina, Kentucky, Tennessee, Georgia, Florida, Louisiana, Alabama, and Zibabwe. By the end of the conference, I had met more conference partiipants who had come from Oregon, Virginia, California, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Missiouri. Over 75 adults registered for the event, and many of them were young, as in their twenties and thirties. And they brought their children.
Following the opening meal, I participated in an inspiring time of worship. It set the tone for the remainder of the conference. This was not going to be an ordinary conference on agricultural methodology. It was going to be a prayer filled event grounded in humble prayer and jubilant thanksgiving and praise to God.
The theme of the conference was Farming to Glorify God. The featured speaker was a man from Zimbabwe in Africa who founded an organization orginally called Farming God’s Way. It has been renamed Foundations for Farming based on the scripture, “There is no other foundation but the one that has already been laid, Jesus Christ.” I found Brian Oldreive to fulfill everything Noah Sanders wrote about him in the event description and more. He is a native white African from Zimbabwe. He has more than fifty years farming experience and is a deeply devoted follower of Christ. Brian demonstrates what God can do through a farmer dedicated to Jesus. Foundations for Farming is a discipleship based ministry that focuses on teaching the poor faithfulness with the land. Over thirty years ago Brian made a commitment to glorify God through farming. Following a conversation with his daughter who asked him why he grew tobacco since he taught her not to use it because it poisons the body, Brian spent many sleepless nights. He prayed one night pledging he would never grow another leaf of tobacco if that is what God wanted from him. A peace immediately came over him and he began growing wheat and maize instead. Due to sandy soil, which is good for tobacco but not for wheat and maize, and as a result of two years of drought, he lost everything he owned. The Lord used this experience to humble him to a point where he cried out to the Lord for wisdom as he continued to be unprofitable even after taking over management of another farm.
The Lord began to show Brian some things about farming in nature. As a result Brain practiced a few basic principles, e.g., zero tilling, heaving mulching, and frequent weeding done on time, to a high standard, with minimal wastefulness. Brian Oldreive became the most successful farmer in Zimbabwe. He won awards for his farm’s productivity. God then called Brian to teach what he had learned to the poor of Africa. That is how Foundations for Farming was born. In 2002, the economy and agriculture system of Zimbabwe collapsed due in part to the fast track land seizure of 9.23 million hectares of white-owned “commercial” farms by the government. Brian lost everything he owned again when the farm he managed was taken over. Instead of reacting with anger, blame, or condemnation, Brian prayed to find what God wanted him to do. The Lord led him to begin working full time on discipling the poor of Zimbabwe and Africa while he taught them the effective farming practices God had shown him and did so with a heart for Jesus. There was much skepticism about Brian’s methods, but as the government of Zimbabwe sought to rebuild the country’s food system, and nothing they tried was working, some leaders began to notice that the only people growing enough food to feed themselves with surplus to sell were those who received training in Foundations for Farming. As a result, Mr. Brian and his team were eventually asked to teach their program in the nation’s schools, agricultural colleges, police departments, prisons, and hospitals with full liberty to point to Jesus as the foundation of good agriculture. In Zimbabwe the Church is now leading the way in rebuilding the nation’s food production system on the principles of God’s Word.
I will conclude my remarks on the conference by describing what I saw in a 2 hour field trip to Sanders Farm that Noah and his wife have developed. We saw a simple demonstration of the erosion caused by the conventional farming method of plowing deeply versus a zero till method of planting, and the difference in the erosion that results on bare ground compared to almost no erosion when the ground is heavily mulched. Seeing this demonstration made me want to park all my plows forever. I was not the only one who after seeing this demonstration concluded that God had indeed answered Brian’s prayer and led him to an understanding of a farming methodology that is in harmony with nature through which the poor and hungry can have the hope and joy of providing food for their families and with enough to sell at markets for a modest income. Farming God’s way rather than through invasive human methods can feed the world. This definitely has application in Zimbabwe where food productivity has declined drastically due to drought and erosion combined with conventional farming techniques. It is also a way to rehabilitate the nutrient depleted soils resulting from years of conventional farming methods using chemicals and deep tilling methods in the United States. It applies to the smallest garden and the largest field.
To find out more about Foundations for Farming and its impact on the land, in defeating hunger and poverty, and in making disciples of Jesus Christ, visit their website at http://www.foundationsforfarming.org/.