Our family has really dived in to our backyard urban mini-farm – we’ve been spending many hours prepping the land, hunched over Excel spreadsheets, and getting up many days in a row at dawn to plant seedlings before the kids get up. One of the key parts of sustainable agriculture is taking a long view on things – we’re not just trying to build the absolutely best garden for this season, but investing in the land so that it will be fruitful for years and decades to come. This means growing the right mix of crops so that you are growing enough compost matter to put back into the soil. Only the nutrients present in the food itself gets taken away, and literally everything else gets put back in to build up good dirt. That’s what we’re trying to do now, which is why we’re growing a whole lot more grains and beans this year than ever before – we just put in about 300 wheat plants (for compost material and grain) and have about 150 green bean plants and soybean plants (that build nitrogen into the soil) either in the ground or about ready to go in the ground.
Nor is our garden just about being good stewards, growing healthy food, or just a hobby that we’re taking up – although we do enjoy the fruits of our labor (quite literally) and the beautiful vista out our back window. It’s actually become an integrated part of our journey as followers of Jesus. All over the Scriptures you see organic analogies and stories – talk about land, seed sowing, harvests, weeds, good and bad soil, the garden of Eden.
Speaking of dirt, another key lesson I think God has been drilling into me over the last few years especially is that spiritual life is messy. Things rarely go according to plan, God and a Godward life doesn’t fit into convenient compartments, and it takes hard, hard work to be a consistent and faithful disciple of Jesus. It’s just like work in the garden – there are pests to contend with, poor weather that throws off schedules, diseases that come and mess with the plants, among a whole host of other things that could go wrong. Working in the garden (on the land and in your soul) is hard work! I’m often on my hands and knees, dirt everywhere, clothes soiled, picking up gross things — all the help foster a good environment for healthy plants. Is that not what the spiritual journey with God looks like? The deeper I walk into life with Jesus, the more I realize I need to be on my hands and knees (both literally and figuratively), plowing through hard stuff, working through gross things, and embracing the messiness of it all.
The closer I get to the dirt, the more my eyes are opened to God and His creation, his desire for people to operate in a natural and connected way to Him and His world, and the myriad of ways that deep discipleship is patterned after God’s design in non-human creation. Even understanding passages in the Scriptures like God causing the growth of plants, and us participating in it in some way (see 1 Cor 3:6-7). And add to that the great feeling of being outside, hands and knees in the dirt, watching plants grow from tiny seedlings into full-fledged plants, it’s a wonder to behold. I’d highly recommend it. The further we walk into it, the more tired we get, but the more integrated, healthy, and vibrant our life starts to feel.