Agriculturist Turned Pastoral Scholar Part II - Catholic Rural Life

Agriculturist Turned Pastoral Scholar Part II

Duane Short • October 25, 2017

Ethical Food and Agriculture

Growing up on a farm, I had the honor and privilege to observe and work with God’s creation. As in Disney’s The Lion King, farmers see the “Great Circle of Life” daily. We till the soil and plant these tiny seeds that through the miracle of God’s hand become a bountiful crop to harvest. How do those little seeds create such abundance? We see the miracle of birth with baby pigs, calves, chicks, lambs, and other animals under our care. Right before our eyes they grow and prosper. God’s gifts are wondrous indeed.

Of course, the “Great Circle of Life” has its downsides as well. Death is a part of farming, and of life. Dry weather or vicious storms can decimate crops. This growing season was good in our area of Iowa. Farmers are busy harvesting the bounty of their work and of God’s miracles, gathering grains to be utilized in a multitude of products to help feed the growing world population. And, of course, raising livestock nearly always results in the fruits of your labor being harvested for food, if disease and predators don’t get them first. Farmers get to observe the “Great Circle of Life” daily, and it is beautiful and good– it is God and His Creation.

As an adult, the full revelation of God and Creation came when my wife and I moved to Arizona. We are both Iowa farm kids and had never lived anywhere else. We had never been to a desert, let alone lived in one. Deserts always look barren and desolate. Why would anyone want to live there? Driving through the desert to get to Phoenix did nothing to change our preconceptions. Then, to top it all off, we suffered heat stroke the very first weekend we were in town. What was this desert doing to us? Why are we here? But then something wonderful happened. The first spring we were in Arizona, we took a drive between Phoenix and Tucson that is known for wildflowers. Rains had been abundant  that spring (at least for a desert) so the wildflowers were flourishing. It was a beautiful sight! We also got to experience God’s sense of humor on the drive. We stopped alongside the road and found a jumping cactus. We had heard of them in our short stay in Arizona, but didn’t really believe the stories. I held my foot a few inches from the cactus and part of the cactus did indeed jump to my foot! Fortunately, it was the bottom of my sandal so no body parts were harmed.

This little excursion helped us to remove the blinders from our eyes. We saw beauty in places we had never thought possible. We saw how the plants and wildlife adapted to the environment and flourished in their own way. We saw how animals hid from the sun during the day and came out at night. How cactus can bloom with the littlest amount of water. We saw the little family of geckos that lived in our carport scurrying about in a different light. They were beautiful and helped control bugs. We laughed when one little gecko somehow got into our bathroom and scared the heck out of our daughters. Yes, the desert is beautiful, and we missed it when we moved back to Iowa. We just needed to get out of our own way to look and observe. God’s beauty is indeed everywhere!

A big part of my prayer life is sitting in nature and observing. I watch our bird feeders with diverse types of birds scurrying in and out. The assorted colors and markings are a wonder to see. I see the chipmunks eating underneath the feeders and then playing with each other like little kids! I see squirrels and bunnies also feeding. I see a bunny jump two feet straight up in the air when a chipmunk scampers around the wheelbarrow and surprises her! Soon it will be cold and snow will cover the ground, but the birds and wildlife remain and I just observe from the comfort of our home. Then spring will come and everything will be new again. The “Circle of Life” continues. I urge each of you to spend some time in your nature and creation. It will be uniquely yours and only yours. It will lift your spirits and connect you to God and Creation.

God said at the end of each day of creation, “It is good.” Yes, all of creation is beautiful and good. From the mountain vistas to the barren deserts. From the grandeur of the plains to the ocean coasts that are both rocky and sandy. From the forests to the swamplands. All this beauty and goodness is a direct reflection on God, the Creator. Creation reflects the glory of God and is present everywhere. Sometimes we need to get out of our own way to see it, but it is there. And Creation is great!

This poses further reflection upon how we view agriculture in the United States. There are many different thoughts, opinions and evidences about why one method of farming is better than another, why one practice is more “humane” than another, etc.

That being said, if God is everywhere, and creation is everywhere, and creation is good, then God is in each and every field and God is in each and every livestock operation. To engage all sides in a discussion, we need to acknowledge that God is everywhere, and if God is there, it must not be evil. So, organic crops are not evil, non-GMO crops are not evil, GMO crops are not evil: all crops are from God’s creation and they are good. In the same way, organic livestock are not evil, natural livestock are not evil, grass-fed livestock are not evil, free-range livestock are not evil, feedlot livestock are not evil, livestock raised in buildings are not evil: they are all from God’s creation and they are good.

The first step in our conversation is to acknowledge that all crops and livestock are from God’s creation and therefore good. Can we acknowledge this? This is the heart of the matter: we must recognize that God is in everything and we must grant that God created everything and that creation is good. Once we acknowledge this, we can work on the next steps.

–Duane Short is a lifelong agriculturist and Master degree student. He and his family live in Hamilton County, Iowa.

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