Agriculturist Turned Pastoral Scholar Part I

While I love listening to stories, I have just never developed the knack for telling them. The stories I told our daughters while they were growing up were read out of books (mostly Disney). I especially like stories from those who came before us and blazed the trail for the current generation. For instance, my maternal grandfather rode the rails from Missouri to Iowa. The first two stops yielded nothing. However, at the third stop, grandpa received a job offer to work on a farm not more than a few blocks from the train. That’s how we came to settle in Hamilton County, Iowa: the chance meeting of a farmer in need of help and my grandpa, fresh off the train from Missouri looking for work. As they say, the rest is history.

There are a few reasons why stories befuddle my vocal chords. The first is that I am an introvert. I don’t really like to talk unless I have something to say. The second reason is that I am not a quick thinker but a deep thinker. I should ask my wife, the psychologist, but I am guessing that is another attribute of an introvert. I can’t instantly think of a comeback or a story that fits into any conversation. More than likely it will come to me an hour later.

So why do I want to tell my story now, in this way? More importantly, why would you want to read about it? Here is my elevator pitch. I have been involved in agriculture my entire life. Except for a brief stint as a USDA statistician in Arizona, my time has been spent entirely in and around Hamilton County, Iowa. Hamilton County has some of the most fertile land in the world and is home to numerous livestock operations. All my grandparents were farmers, as were their families before them. My parents were farmers. If not for the untimely death of my father two weeks after my fourth birthday, I might have been a farmer. My wife’s family is also a family of farmers. Farming is in my genes (and jeans). We stayed on the farm after Dad’s death and raised corn, soybeans, and hogs with my uncle, who left a coaching and teaching position to farm the farm for Mom (yes, farm is a noun and a verb) . I showed hogs at county and state fairs. I was a four-year member of FFA and received an Agricultural Business degree from Iowa State University. My professional career has seen stints in the USDA and various private entities. Most recently, I have been involved in natural and organic livestock and meat.

As a lifetime learner (kindergarten did not teach me everything I needed to know), I decided to pursue a Master of Pastoral Studies from Loyola University in New Orleans a couple of years ago. I have discovered there are more similarities than differences between religions. See, I grew up Protestant but married a Cradle Catholic (we all have our weaknesses). After seventeen stubborn years, I joined the Catholic Church. Although RCIA taught me a lot, there is still much to learn. My course for the past semester was “The Universe as Divine Manifestation.” As a “farmer,” I thought I was an ecologist and environmentalist. I thought we were taking care of the animals and the land (for the most part, every industry has its outliers), because if a farmer does not care for the land and livestock, they are struggling or out of business. If the assets don’t perform, there is no farm.

So there was my first “aha” moment, speaking of animals and land as assets. Assets are things. Animals and land are God’s creation and gifts to us humans. They are not things or objects for our use and whims, they are co-subjects in God’s Kingdom. But if you look at a farm financial statement, right there under assets you will find land and livestock – things. My second “aha” moment was the term natural resource. According to Merriam-Webster, a resource is “a natural feature or phenomenon that enhances the quality of human life,” or “a natural source of wealth or revenue.” More things to be used up. That doesn’t sound like co-subjects in God’s creation.

An important thing I discovered in the course was that I am pretty good at writing stories. Probably because I have time to think it out. This will be the story of my journey from farmer ecologist to spiritual ecologist. I will seek to find the balance between the extremes. I don’t believe the answers are on the poles, but somewhere in the middle where educated and reasonable folks can agree. Farming is a noble vocation that has been in existence since the beginning of time. Farming is vital to feed the world’s exploding population. However, farming must treat animals, land, and all nature as equals in God’s Creation. Agriculture should enhance the land and livestock so that future generations can also benefit from nature. My hope is that we can have a discussion on the merits of everything related to crop and livestock production, we can be respectful in our dialogue, and most importantly, learn something from each other.

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