Our journey to organic and sustainable farming goes back to the 1970s, a time of spiritual transformation, as we considered the implications of being a follower of Jesus Christ in a world that has abused His creation. As we became aware that “God saw everything He made, and indeed it was good,” we longed to be part of a community of faith which would be actively engaged in God’s plan to reconcile all things to Himself.
Many questions were coming to mind. What is the meaning and purpose of work? Is it simply a means of making a profit and accumulating wealth? Can work build community and nurture the creation?
Are we simply miners of the soil, taking all we can get, or are we caretakers so that future generations will also receive the blessing and benefit of the good land?
Should we engage in farming practices which are detrimental to the life of the soil, to the plants and animals sustained by the soil and to the health of the people who consume that food?
It was during this time, we became associated with a number of young people living and working on our family’s farm, many of whom were part of the growing environmental movement of the 60s and 70s. These young people, including some of our own children challenged us to rethink what it means, as Jesus followers, to care for His garden.
Gradually we began to understand some of the huge challenges confronting those who wish to reverse the harmful effects of modern farming: the loss of half the top soil on farms east of the Rocky Mountains in 100 years of industrial farming and the creation of a huge dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico, as excess nitrogen and pesticides flow from farms down the Mississippi River.
We believe there are two basic challenges for all of us who care deeply about restoring this precious soil and water which are gifts from the Creator:
- How do we keep healthy soil on the farms?
- How do we keep healthy farms on the soil?
Presently in America we are losing two to three million areas of prime farmland per year to urban sprawl, asphalt, malls and suburbia. Just like the mud going down the Mississippi River, that land is lost forever.
In 1986, we moved to Windy Acres Farm, located in a wonderful farming area of north-eastern Robertson County, TN. We wanted to be a small part of the solution of changing this trend by adopting organic and sustainable methods characterized by:
- Crop rotations
- Cover cropping to give green manure back to the soil
- Elimination of synthetic pesticides and herbicides
- Use of Non-GMO seeds and open pollinated seeds as much as possible
- Enhancement of soil aerobic biological life
- Reintroduction of cattle and sheep in rotation with grain crops
We have truly been blessed during these years as we have actually discovered and proven that organic farming can work and that we can be a part of the restoration of the Lord’s vineyard.
It would not have been possible without the able assistance of others who have shared in this vision of being nurturers of the land rather than exploiters, notably Sam Justice, whose passion for caring for the land has been a big encouragement for many years.
Many others have worked in large and small ways assisting us with bookkeeping, animal husbandry, equipment maintenance, machine operation, grain cleaning, marketing, and other tasks necessary for a successful farm.
It was also during this time of spiritual transformation that we became increasingly aware of God’s love and compassion for the ones Jesus called the “least of these my brothers,” with the resulting desire to live more simply that others might simply live.
In 1980, we traveled to the country of Uganda, then reeling from years of political chaos which brought on poverty, civil war and military atrocities. We joined a small band of Ugandan friends in Christ to bring spiritual and economic hope to the displaced people of Teso region of Uganda.
Today those friendships continue in the shape of a community of Christ followers who are striving to bring reconciliation and development to Teso. This community is known as Hands in Service and is actively engaged in developing two organic farms which in the future should support in a sustainable way the various ministries of the community.
Alfred and Carney Farris