A Legacy of Loving the Land

06062014 Lavelle Reynolds
Lavelle Reynolds. A photo taken June 6, 2014, shortly before Lavelle turned 100 years old.

“In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return” (Genesis 3:19, King James Version).

I read this verse in the flyleaf of Daddy’s Bible in 1972 when I had borrowed it to prepare my first sermon.  I did not know nearly enough about the meaning of that verse to preach on it, so I prepared and preached a sermon on why bad things happen to good people instead, based on Luke 13:1-5.   I did not know enough to preach on that topic either, but at least I told folks what Jesus said about it and hope the Holy Spirit gave hearers understanding beyond my own.  As for Genesis 3:19, I asked Daddy why he had written part of God’s curse on Adam for eating the forbidden fruit in the flyleaf of his Bible.  I tell this story in chapter  11 of my book, The Land That Calls Me Home.  His answer was that that these words were spoken by God, and when God’s Word is obeyed it brings blessing.

Hughey Lavelle Reynolds is now 100 years old.  We celebrated his birthday last month.  He was born at home on June 23, 1914,  to Thomas Hughey and Inas Octavia Whatley Reynolds in  Barfield, Alabama, an unincorporated community near Lineville, AL.   I give you those details to underscore the agrarian legacy they passed down to their namesake.   Farming was the only way of life my grandparents knew.  However, in 1920, Granddaddy Reynolds took a job with the railroad and moved the family five miles into the town of Lineville within walking distance of the Depot.  The Great Depression would soon follow.  Granddaddy had one of the few paying jobs during the Depression because the trains had to run.  It was with the income he still had while many others lost everything that Thomas Hughey Reynolds purchased 113 acres of land in the 1930’s.  Half of that land is part of the 85 acre farm my wife and I own today.  The other half is part my late brother Rod’s estate.

Fast forward to the 1940’s.  Daddy’s attempt to volunteer for the Army during WWII failed.  The medical examiner detected a heart murmur and issued him a medical deferment.  I am not sure what the examiner heard, but Daddy’s heart at 100 seems to be fine.  Nonetheless, Daddy stayed home and started a “farm custom work” business.  He turned a lot of terraces on Clay County hillsides and prepared a lot of ground for crops on farms left to wives and mothers of men away at war.  It was then that Daddy bought his first tractor, a John Deere B.  He also worked for the local John Deere dealer, the Lineville Gin and Fertilizer Company, and became a top notch tractor mechanic.  Daddy’s brother, Thelson, served in the European Theater as a member of the Army’s Military Police.  He wrote home to his wife and mother almost daily.  Weeks passed and neither heard a word from him.

Grandmother Reynolds was worried sick, literally.  Someone suggested that she travel fifteen miles south to the Clay County, Alabama community of Millerville to visit Mrs. Rena Teel. Some people called Mrs. Teel a fortune teller.  She claimed she had the gift of discernment by which she was able to determine answers to quandaries and mysteries no one else could solve.  Grandmother asked Mrs. Teel if Thelson  was alive.  She assured her he was alive, although he had suffered an injury, and would return home safely.  She also told Grandmother something Grandmother had not asked.  She told her that her family owned a piece of property that would one day be very valuable.

When I first heard that story in the 1950’s, I would take a wood frame with a wire mesh bottom in it to the farm to pan for gold in the branches and creeks there.  I was sure I was going to find gold and be rich one day. When I got old enough to help Daddy with the farm chores of stringing barbed wire fences and working the cattle or loading the calves to send them to the sale or cutting and baling hay, I began to form a new theory about the value of the land my family owned.  In the 1990’s, when part of that farm became mine, I abandoned my childhood wish that there would be gold in the streams or beneath the soil’s surface on the farm.  I was beginning to learn that the dirt itself was the source of life not only for the pine and hardwood trees and the forages of the pastures where the cows graze, but also for me.

Like the majority of children born into agrarian families in the mid-to-late twentieth century, I left our rural home and farm, obtained a college education, and found employment in larger and larger cities.  The farm on which I was raised was a distant and sometimes suppressed memory.   One might call the decision of Thomas Hughey Reynolds in the 1920’s to take a job with the railroad fortuitous. It enabled him to purchase the land that was passed down to a grandson he never knew (he died 9 years before my birth).  I call the decision providential, for through it and subsequent decisions, by divine  grace, God has called me back to the land, to love it and value it and honor it as my father did when he plowed the ground in the sweat of his face and penned Genesis 3:19 in the flyleaf of his Bible.

Mrs. Teel’s prediction has already come true.  I have found the treasure of the land in the form of the life-giving soil that covers every inch of it. I have heard God’s Word speaking to me through that ground calling me back home, actually calling a generation back, to the land, to care for it, to till it, and to receive the life that God created the land to provide.  Stake your claim on whatever piece of land you have, however small it may be, and discover the same treasure of life in it.

2014-05-31 14.18.18
My grandson showing me his garden during his first birthday celebration.

The Next Generation of Small-Scale Farmers

My grandson feeds a range cube to the newest herd bull on the farm.

My love of small-scale farming revived in me when I was still in my thirties.  As much as I enjoy and am energized by hands-on farm work, I have discovered that I can do the most good for small-scale farmers by working full time as a pastor with churches to create local markets where small-scale farmers sell what they grow.  My aim is to farm part time and use the influence I have as a full time pastor to make small-scale farming viable again so when I retire from pastoral ministry I can farm with the expectation of earning a respectable income from it.

In the opening chapters of The Land That Calls Me Home, I recall living on, moving from, and returning to our small farm in Lineville, Alabama.   The stages of both leaving and returning to the farm were gradual but the lifestyle difference at each stage was drastic.  Each step away from the farm was downhill because it involved less physical labor and more leisure.  Each step back into small-scale farming, from farming as an avocation toward farming as a life vocation, has been uphill, requiring harder and more time-consuming physical labor and the sacrifice of much leisure.

2014-05-17 10.48.34
Sandy helping me haul hay in 2009 when I could not find any day laborers to hire. Oh, and we’re still married after 39 years.

Given the trend of ever larger industrial farms growing food for expanding global markets, the prospects of working harder and living on less than their parents does not appeal to a generation schooled to accomplish and achieve.  One of my biggest supporters read my book that announces the revival of small-scale farms and said to me, “I disagree with the conclusion that there can be much of a comeback of small scale farms considering the size, power, and tools of Big Ag.”  Industrial agriculture tells us we can have it all, that 99 percent of us can leave farming to the 1 percent who will get bigger with bigger equipment, more land in cultivation and pasture, stronger chemicals, and a greater variety of genetically modified organisms.  That will allow even the 1 percent who farm to carry on lives with as much wealth and leisure as the 99 percent who no longer have to farm.  Or at least that is what the equipment and chemical manufacturers advertise.  How big is big enough is a question like how much income is enough.  Those who have a lot are seldom satisfied but are constantly under pressure to have more.  Therefore, they have little leisure.

A revival of small-scale farms in America will be accompanied by a spiritual revolution that discerns the deceit in the cult of upward mobility, of working less for more, a revolution in which people are set free from the spirit of ease and privilege that comes with upward mobility.  In the case of large-scale farming, the cult of upward mobility is nothing more than a pyramid scheme where money lenders and oligopolies of processors, manufacturers, and distributors are on top getting enormous profits even when the producers below them in the pyramid are losing and going deeper into debt.  I raise beef cattle.  Currently, cattle producers are enjoying record profits from a high world demand for beef that has outpaced the supply.  Small-scale farmers who opt out of global markets and grow instead for and sell in local markets directly to the consumer are either crazy to refuse the lucrative profits promised by the pyramid scheme managers or they have been set free from the lure of easy financial gain.

What can set any of us free from the lure of having more with greater leisure to enjoy it?  I believe that the God who created the heavens and the earth and all that is in them infused the soil of the earth with the divine power by which the earth was created.  The very soil beneath our feet contains the energy, when combined with the light and heat of the sun and rain, to produce all the food we need not only to survive but to thrive.  When you and I introduce a child to the soil and that child participates with us in partnership with God to grow the food he or she eats, we open up a channel of divine power that alone can cast out the spirit of consumerism and the greed that fuels the cult of upward mobility.

If you are living close to the soil, or in fact getting your livelihood from it, you are on the front lines of inspiring members of the next generation to get closer to and live off the land.  If you live apart from the soil and depend totally on others who work it, you owe it to yourself and to your children and grandchildren to know farmers in your area who sell at local markets and buy as much of the food you eat from them as you can.  And when you buy it, bring the youngest members of your family with you to learn what you are learning again, that the very best food you or they will ever eat is grown from the soil beneath your feet.

Will my grandson be a farmer?  That is not for me to decide ultimately, but for him.  What I can do is work to ensure that he is not ensnared by consumerism and the cult of having more from less effort, and I can expose him to the divine power at work in the soil that keeps him free to choose to be a farmer if farming is what gives him life, purpose, and joy.

2014-05-31 14.18.18
My grandson at his first birthday party showing me the raised bed garden he enjoys with his mother and father.

A Locally-Grown Menu Challenge

2013-05-14 19.49.47I am not a chef but an ordinary guy who likes good food trying to plan, cook, and eat healthier meals.  When Sandy has planned a special meal or two for the week, she gives me a list of items to buy at the Farmers Market or comes after she gets off work at 5:00 and selects the items herself.  Sometimes, however, I am on my own.   My tendency is to buy what is in-season at the Farmers Market because it looks and tastes good without having a plan for the meals I will prepare with or around those foods.  As a result, I buy a lot of food that sits in the refrigerator or on the counter until it is no longer fresh.  Worst case scenario is that it ends up in my composter and makes fertilizer for my garden.  That is not a very efficient use of locally grown food.  That experience causes me to buy less from the farmers at the market but to end up having to eat out more or run to the grocer to purchase items for our meals hours before we eat them.

How much more efficient and healthier would it be to plan menus around fresh, in-season, locally grown food and to purchase menu items from the Farmers Market? Therefore, I issue a challenge to other ordinary food consumers, more experienced home cooks than I am, and to chefs and dietitians to develop tasty, nutritious menus using in-season locally grown foods.  As a life-long eater and amateur 2nd tier cook in my house, I have developed the following meal ideas to help guide my purchases at the Farmers Market.  Until you more creative cooks offer better ideas, when it is my turn to cook meals, I will use the following as a guide to make purchases from the Farmers Market.

2014-05-06 15.04.07Breakfast:

  1. Free range eggs any style, toasted sourdough bread, honey, goat cheese, fresh fruit, served with a strawberry smoothie
  2. French toast using homemade bread, honey, and organic butter, served with organic milk. Eat along with your favorite organically grown cereal.
  3. Southwest omelet using free range eggs, peppers, organic cheese, homemade salsa, served with gourmet coffee
  4. Toasted cranberry-spice bread, organic butter, strawberry jelly or honey, goat cheese, with hot or iced tea.  Eat along with organic oatmeal topped with cream or whole milk from an organic dairy.
  5. Boiled free range egg, homemade pimento cheese on toasted sourdough bread, gourmet coffee.  Meat-eaters add bacon or sausage.

2014-05-06 15.01.33


  1. Organic chicken salad using a variety of organic, natural, and hydroponic lettuce and spinach; ice-cream for dessert.
  2. Wagyu beef burger on homemade bread topped with onions, tomatoes, lettuce, and homemade salsa with sautéed spinach and collards.  Strawberry shortcake for dessert using glutton free biscuits topped with custard and fresh berries.
  3. Cubed steak, collard, spinach, kale boil, sautéed squash-onion-broccoli mix, tomato and organic lettuce salad, sweet rolls.
  4. Chicken pot pie using organic chicken and broth, carrots, sweet peas, new potatoes diced, on a glutton free pie crust.
  5. Wagyu sirloin tip roast using 7-up, garlic clove, bay leaves, and seasonings, cooked with carrots, potatoes, and onions; salad of mixed greens topped with strawberries; ice-cream for dessert.

Accept the challenge.  Post your locally grown in-season home menu here. It will help all of us, growers and eaters alike, know what to grow, what to buy, and what to cook that we and our households will actually eat.






A Farmers Market Lifestyle

2014-05-13 15.29.20

I delayed posting a blog last week following the first session of our farmers market at Latham UMC  until I could better gauge the success of our opening day. The parking lot was a beautiful sight to behold as the time approached for the  bell to begin sales at the market. Our Farmers Market Manager, Jane Smith, had invited and approved more farmers and vendors to sell in or market than we had any day last year. However, the perception of some farmers, based on their sales, was that we had fewer customers than they expected. When I talked to a few folks that I had previously seen at the market who were not there opening day, more than one told me that the word has gotten out that we were only going to have strawberries and a few other items. We had a lot of strawberries, big, sweet, juicy ones, because they are in season.  Strawberries2We also had a lot more, including the best variety of leafy green vegetables that you will find all year long.JDSparksHydroponics

There were also jams and relishes and honey, fresh fruit popsicles, specialty tea and coffee, fresh baked pies,  ice-cream, Kobe beef. free range poultry and eggs, butter, cheese, and more.  As the days start getting hotter, the strawberries will no longer produce but the summer vegetables will  develop and ripen.Corn

I understand and identify with the need for education on which fruits and vegetables are in season in our region at any given time. For one thing, I got away from producing my own food for almost 20 years, from my mid-twenties to my mid-forties. Instead of planting and tending crops and herds for food, I depended on the global market to grow and process and ship and often prepare and serve the food I ate. I did not have to ask what was in season because almost everything was in season somewhere and was shipped to where I bought it and ate it. I learned through those years to expect to have the few foods that I liked the best all the time, even if tomatoes did feel like plastic on the outside and had the texture of wet sponges on the inside.   And therefore, I did not try other foods but limited my diet year round to meat and potatoes and salad with an occasional spear of asparagus or head of broccoli thrown in and black eyed peas which I love. Of course I could have black eyed peas year round because they’re dried and on the grocery shelf all the time.  I’d almost forgotten what fresh black eyed peas taste like because I had settled to eat them out of season all the time, flavored with fat, even in the summer when I could have had them fresh.  What was missing from my diet was fresh food, food harvested that day and grown in the soil around me.

Once I started to  grow a lot of my own food again and to buy it from local growers, even foods I had not previously preferred tasted good.  When they are grown locally and served fresh, fruit, vegetables, and meat retain their natural flavors, which literally cannot be improved upon.  Next to the pleasure and joy of eating strawberries off your own plants, tomatoes that grow behind your house, and potatoes you dig from the soil on your own property, buying, cooking, and eating fresh seasonal local fruits and vegetables, meat, poultry, and prepared foods from a farmers market is the most natural and fulfilling culinary experience you can have.  Buying and eating locally grown food will enrich your diet and your life. You are buying these items from the men and women who, with their children and grandchildren, grew them on their farm. You can ask them questions and hear their stories and get their advice on both how to prepare the food and how to grow it if you want to grow it yourself.2014-05-06 15.02.43

The Alabama Cooperative Extension Agency has a number of publications listing the fruits and vegetables that are in season in our region for the upcoming weeks and throughout the summer and fall. Here is a link to one of those publications that tell you the kinds of in season fruits and vegetables to expect in our market. The Alabama Farmers Market Authority offers publications on ways to prepare local food that you will find extremely easy and amazingly tasty.

Preparing food that you have bought at a farmers market can be more time consuming than you have grown accustomed to. Having someone process and sometimes prepare the food we eat has allowed us time to busy ourselves with activities that have nothing to do with food preparation. Ultimately, making food that you purchased at a farmers market a regular part of your diet requires a lifestyle change. What would it take for you to leave work an hour early one or two days a week in order to come home and prepare fresh food for your household? Planning several days menus in advance will help you decide what you want to buy at the market. Having that meal in mind will make you want to leave work early or spend 30 minutes less on social media or texting or talking on the phone.

Here is another benefit: food preparation is always a learning experience that you can share with other family members and friends. Much of the popularity of the Food Network is our intrigue with ordinary people they feature who prove to be outstanding chefs when they start with quality food. That should tell you that you are just one or two fresh locally grown food items short of being an award-winning cook yourself, at least in your own household and social circles.

In summary, learn what is fresh in your locale, plan several weekly menus around it, buy it at your local farmers market, and set aside time several days a week to prepare and serve it. I promise that your diet, your health, and your relationships and communication in your house will improve as a result. Making these changes will take you closer to the source of your food and to the pattern of family interaction that builds healthy relationships among people but also between people and the soil, and people and God.  God has blessed the very dirt around us to produce abundant food.   Eating food grown locally increases our thanksgiving for the food, the farmer, and for the soil all around us that gives us life.  As a result, we will see that caring for the local soil and about the local farmer is our responsibility too. You and I are the ones who determine if we have successful Farmers Markets in our community.  We decide that each week when we choose to buy at the Farmers Market or not, and each meal when we prepare and eat locally grown food or not.  Support our local farmers.  Buy local!  Eat fresh!



The Image of a Farmer

What image comes to mind when you think of farmers?  Many think of Grant Wood’s 1930 painting called American Gothic pictured below.  The artist admitted he was intrigued by the house in the background and only imagined the kind of people who must have lived in it.  He depicts a farmer and his spinster daughter.  The artist had his own sister and dentist stand in for the painting.  Hearing the real story behind the painting leaves me a little less nostalgic about the lives of New England farmers of the early 20th century when I see this painting.

American Gothic
Grant Woods American Gothic, 1930

If the farmer and his daughter in American Gothic are an inaccurate representation of farmers today, then what image can take its place?  Unfortunately, the media runs to the spectacular and the farmer/rancher who has made the most noise recently is Cliven Bundy, the Nevada Rancher who with his armed rancher neighbors and area militia won a standoff with Federal Land Management Rangers who had come to confiscate 500 head of his cattle.  Bundy had failed, or moreover refused, to pay grazing fees for the cattle to graze thousands of acres of federal grasslands so the court ordered the cows to be taken in partial payment.  The standoff worked and the Feds decided rather to pursue the matter judicially.  While the media was surrounding him and Bundy was making statements that the federal government was interfering too much in people’s lives, politicians who tout less government as part of their platform courted Bundy and saw him as a poster boy for their campaigns. AP RANGE SHOWDOWN A USA NVThen Bundy made a blunder, or rather he kept talking until his words got him in hot water and sent politicians running to distance themselves from him.  He made a statement that negroes were better off as slaves than they are with federal subsidies.  His words went viral.  He was immediately viewed as a racist, and the more he tries to explain that his words were taken out of context the deeper he digs the hole of racism he originally jumped into. Unfortunately, Bundy is the picture that comes to the minds of many when they think of the few remaining farmers who have held on to their lifestyle and remained rural.  They are people with a vocation that dates back to the Garden of Eden and also people whose views about the world are as archaic as their vocation.  Narrow-minded, provincial, bigoted, lone-rangers, anti-government, anarchic, and vigilante are words that fit this description.  Is that the American farmer?  One reason we do not have a clear picture of the American farmer is that those who grow our food live farther and farther away from us.  Even in the summer months when in-season vegetables can be grown locally, the average distance food we buy in the grocery store travels before it reaches our tables is 1,300 miles.  Today, the picture of the beef farmer in America looks like the images below.

These are the four beef packing companies that control over 80% of all the beef slaughtered and processed in the U.S.    These companies look like no farmer I ever met, and the reason is that they are not.  They are, however, the companies that hold the beef farmer’s livelihood in the balance.  They are the companies that buy over 80% of the 35 million cattle slaughtered annually that farmers scattered across America grow. These meat packers in turn sell the meat to distributors who stock your grocer’s freezers.

What I am saying is that the true image of the farmer is quickly fading from our minds because we do not personally know farmers anymore.   Therefore, we allow inaccurate and extremist renderings of farmers to paint a distorted picture on the the blank canvasses in our minds. I would like to change that.  One way to start is to come out to the Farmers Market at Latham UMC beginning next Tuesday, May 6, and every Tuesday through September.  If Latham is not near you, find a Farmers Market that is, and visit it weekly.  You will meet farmers who grow food on their land near you, not 1,300 miles away.  You will talk with the very people who grow some of the best vegetables, fruit, honey, and meat you have eaten.  You will learn their names and they will know yours.  2013-05-21 17.39.13 You will stroll through Latham’s parking lot and talk with farm family members who work together to grow food you and I love to eat and who depend on us, not national and international meat packers and food distributors, to buy their produce.  And the face of a farmer that comes to your mind will look a lot like your neighbor and your friend because that is who she is, who he is. 2013-10-01 16.13.48I hope to see you at the Farmers Market at Latham UMC on Tuesdays.

Why Read The Land That Calls Me Home?

When I ponder why anyone would spend the money or time to read my book, The Land That Calls Me Home, I am prone by southern humility or religious training to think small.  I tell myself, “It’s an inexpensive book and it’s a fast read, written in rather large print with 1.5 line spacing.”  I then check myself, repent of my false humility, and reaffirm the relevance and importance of the subject that the book addresses and the urgency to make others aware of it.

Available at Amazon.com in paperback or Kindle editions

In the book, I investigate the disappearance of small-scale farms from rural America. Have you stopped to think why the farms you saw or perhaps lived on in your childhood have disappeared?  In the book I also cast a vision for the church to lead in a revival of small farms.  By revival I do not mean a week-long meeting celebrating what small farms used to be.  I mean restoring the viability and strength of small-scale farms to be the economic center of rural communities that they once were.  The book goes beyond naming the usual suspects of industrialization, agricultural policies, and corporations most often blamed or credited with orchestrating the mass exodus of farmers from rural America.  Their contributions are well documented.  From my perspective as a pastor of forty years and a long-time student of theology and the Bible, I bring to light two overlooked players in driving farmers away from the land: Theology and the Church.

In a chapter titled “Dirt Farmers at Work and at Prayer,” I describe how a misinterpretation of scripture erroneously equates farming with God’s curse on Adam for eating the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden. That fallacy lies at the root of the uncontested takeover of agriculture by corporate powers. That takeover centralized farming so that today a few giant corporations monopolize global farm markets and only one-percent of all Americans farm full time. Globalizing farming promised to free the masses from the curse of having to work the land to survive. I debunk the portrayal of tilling the soil as a curse and rather interpret the curse as the separation of human beings from the soil. I allowed myself to be separated from it and so did you, unless you still farm on a small-enough scale that requires you to have direct and daily contact with the soil.  I believe that the more distance we allow between ourselves and the soil, the less healthy the earth and our human bodies become. Therefore, I conclude that restoring the viability of small-scale farming is a means of turning the curse on Adam and the soil into a blessing by obeying God’s instructions to Adam to till the soil and harvest food grown from it.

My contention is that the church has been an accomplice to the theft of agriculture from the people and forcing their mass migration from rural farmsteads to suburbs and cities. Part of our complicity in this theft occurred because we were so enamored by the increase in productivity of those who were left to farm on a large scale.  We saw the increase of their productivity as a positive development to be celebrated. We were blinded to the negative impact of the practices of large-scale farming with pesticides, herbicides, genetically modified organisms (altered seed), and chemical fertilizers.  We believed the propaganda that no long-term negative effects were caused by these practices while agricultural runoff on the soil, rivers, and oceans increased.  When we learned of these environmental impacts, we agreed with the politicians who said those effects were negligible compared to the promise of increased yield that could be used to eradicate global hunger. And we in the church failed to see, or ignored the corporate greed that has led global food distributors to stockpile food while millions die of malnutrition annually. When a few socially conscious protesters did speak out about these issues, corporate powers allied with evangelical pundits who declared such issues to be off limits to the church that ought to concentrate on saving souls, not the environment.  The church separated the care of souls from the care of the earth and ceded earth and health care to government and free enterprise. In shrinking rural communities, decimated by the migration of farmers to the city, a few dwindling churches have remained open long enough to care for the lingering souls and to bury the dead. For these reasons and others cited in the book, I believe the church has failed to resist the powers and principalities that have separated human beings from the life-giving soil from which God created human life and with which God intends to bless human beings in the future.

By confessing our complicity in causing the current farm crisis in America and hunger, environmental, and economic crisis worldwide, church leaders can act to reverse much of the damage that has been done.  With renewed vision of God’s intention to redeem creation along with human souls (Romans 8:18-25), the church can help restore the viability of small-scale farming in rural communities on the fringes of larger population centers. Churches can serve as network hubs for farmers, whose crops are too small to win contracts with large grocery chains, to sell their produce in local Farmers Markets and community supported agriculture (CSA) networks. Churches that catch the vision to support local agriculture have the volunteer base, the parking lots, and the presence in their communities to organize and run an effective Farmers Markets. They provide a service to the farmers and to their community while reconnecting people to the soil.

I have researched the loss and revival of small-scale farming from the standpoint of a pastor and a farmer. I lived on and moved from a small-scale farm as a youth and have served in full-time pastoral ministry forty years, including the last twenty years when I have worked to revive and grow my own family farm.  My greatest discovery in seeking to make farming viable has been that the small-scale farm’s best chance of financial solvency is having adequate local markets to sell farm products, markets which churches in population centers are ideally suited to provide. I have worked with lay leaders at Latham United Methodist Church, where I am in my ninth year as pastor, to establish a successful Farmers Market.  I have also served as consultant to other congregations to identify or design ways they could support local agriculture.

If The Land That Calls Me Home causes even one of you who reads it be more aware of the urgency to revive local, small-scale farms and therefore leads you to change your food-buying habits to preference locally grown over globally exported food, then I will know that the book will have been worth far more than you paid for it and the time you spent reading it.  If the book inspires only one of you who reads it to help organize a farmers market in your own church and create relationships between local farmers who grow food and urban or suburban consumers who eat it, then every minute and hour and day I spent writing and rewriting the words in this book will change from chronos time to kairos time, eternal time.  If by reading this book, even one of you takes steps to change your lifestyle and start growing some of the food you and your household eat or, more radically, change your vocation and start farming to grow food to sell in local markets to your neighbors, then I will know that writing this book was nothing short of work done in partnership with God.

Getting the Garden Ready

2014-04-18 14.39.51

Preparing the Soil for Planting

My grandson, Beau Wilkins Reynolds, spent the night at our house on Maundy Thursday, April 17.  He and I went out early on Good Friday morning to stir the soil in my raised beds and see what else needed to be done to the soil to prepare it for planting.  It is Good Friday, a traditional day for planting, but the the Farmers Almanac calls today and tomorrow barren days.  That and a projected cold snap on the 24th are enough to delay my planting until the next excellent days for planting, according to the Almanac, April 29-30.

As I turned back the dirt with a garden hand rake, cool black soil appeared on the surface.  Beau seemed intrigued, so I sat him on my knee above the raised bed and I picked up a handful of soil.  He grabbed a handful and let it sift through his fingers.  I turned more soil and  worms began to wiggle about on the surface.  Beau looked at them with delight.  I picked one up in my hand and he laughed out loud.  I picked up another and held in out for him to take.  He held it gently between his thumb and index finger.  I took it from him before he, at almost 11 months old, could investigate what worms taste like.  It went back onto the garden wiggling its way beneath the surface to continue its vital work of aerating the soil to make it more fertile for the vegetables that will soon grow in it.

2014-04-18 14.43.27The worms enter the soil primarily through the compost that I mix religiously in the garden throughout the year.  You see some of the compost mix above in its early stages of decomposition.  It’s made up of coffee grounds, fruit peelings, and various vegetable scraps along with mulched leaves that I get from a couple in the church who have huge oak trees in their yard and use no chemicals on their lawn.  I compost in a customized drum  that I got from Tractor Supply.   I turn the drum 3 or 4 times  a week and empty it into buckets about every 6 weeks to mix with the raised bed garden soil before and during growing season.

I do have a couple crops that thrive in the cool weather, including the raised bed of strawberries that you see below.  This will be year two for these plants.  They are the ones that survived the harsh winter including two hard freezes with temperatures below 10 degrees.  They are blooming now and forming fruit.  These plants began slowly on about 1/8th of a 5 foot by 10 foot raised bed last year.  Now they cover 3/4ths of the bed and are still spreading.  Actually, they spread outside the bed into the Bermuda grass during the winter, and I would gladly let them take over.  It’s just that the lake bed soil in my yard is not ideal for growing anything but grass and weeds.  That is why I do raised bed gardening here.2014-04-18 14.42.57I do believe every child, and every adult for that matter, benefits from holding handfuls of fertile soil often and gently lifting a worm that works non-stop beneath the surface of rich garden soil allowing it to breathe and receive and retain moisture and nutrients.  I did not do much work in my garden today.  I mainly played with my grandson and watched him begin to learn where his food comes from.  I turned some soil, pulled out a few weeds that were trying to grow there, and watched God’s creatures continue the work they never stopped doing during the winter of getting the ground ready to grow the food we’ll eat this summer.  Go turn some soil.  Compost everything organic from your kitchen or coffee break room.  Your diet, the earth, and another generation will be richer for it.

There’s a section in my book, The Land That Calls Me Home, titled “Determining Your Farming Potential.”  It offers ways to determine if you are cut out for farming by beginning to eat locally grown food and then trying your hand at growing vegetables in containers or raised beds.  Whether you simply start eating food grown closer to home or buy or rent a farm to earn your living from the soil, getting closer to the land that grows and sustains life is good for you.  You can order the book from Amazon and join the discussion of how to increase support for local farmers and increase the availability of locally grown food on The Land That Calls Me Home Facebook Book page at http://www.facebook.com/onewiththesoil.

A fine WordPress.com site