Ever since we embarked on this “natural as possible,” “based on God’s design” journey, we have strongly believed the God’s way is best.  Learning what God’s way is exactly has been the hard part.  And I know we still have much to learn.  Nonetheless, we continued to believe that God had designed things to work a certain way.  On the farm specifically, we studied the Bible in depth, and learned things we’d never really understood before.

For example, did you know that God put plants and animals on the earth, but didn’t give man permission to eat those animals until long AFTER the fall of man?  Yet, Able was a shepherd and Cain was a gardner.  Did you ever ask yourself why?  If you read closely, it becomes very easy to see that God did not intend monoculture to be the way folks sustained themselves.  The animals were used for sacrifice, but also, and possibly more importantly, they fertilized the fields and kept the weeds under control.  When God promised the Isrealites life in the “land of milk and honey,” did you ever think of what that really meant?  Or why he would specifically choose “milk” and “honey?” as a blessing?  Think about it….If you have milk, you have dairy animals, which also means you have lots of vegetation to feed those animals enough to produce all that milk.  If they eat, they produce fertilizer.  And if you have honey, you have bees, which tend to locate themselves in an area of abundant nectar flows and pollen.  They pollinate the plants as they collect their ingredients for honey-making.  In other words, it was a land rich in vegetation and animal life!

So why on earth would I be thinking about this?  Well, as we have studied, and experimented, and tried to learn from more experienced natural farmers (like Joel Salatin, for one), we have certainly encountered our fair share of discouragement.  MANY people have voiced their opinions regarding their support for our modern mono-culture farming system, and many have asked how we can possibly “feed the world” using the farming techniques we have studied and come to prefer (not that we ever said we wanted to feed the world….just our family, with a bit left over to share).

After 7 years of studying, learning, failing, and moving on to try again, this week, finally, our efforts seem to have been blessed by God himself, and appear to be paying off.

The alfalfa field (I confess this photo was taken a couple years ago, I’m not currently there to take a current one).

For the last 3 years, we have grazed a handful of sheep on Red Gate Farm to help control the vegetation.  In the spring through fall, we lease part of our acreage to an alfalfa farmer.  After we found out too late that he used round up the first year to kill everything out and sow the alfalfa, S established the condition that he could continue to farm the land, but was to never spray any chemical on it again.  I assume the farmer just decided to harvest what he could and never even tilled the field again after that.  Sure, over the years, a few weeds have sprouted up and mixed in, but the field has always looked lush.  S then worked with his brother (our caretaker there), bought the necessary portable electric fencing to allow the sheep to be rotated somewhat and graze the alfalfa fields in the off season, which would both fertilize the field and help control the weeds.

Last year, as winter came, the sheep never had to be fed a single bale of hay, as the field was so plentiful they were able to graze it all winter long.  Originally, we assumed the drought just produced little enough snow and that was the reason.  This summer’s drought, however, has been awful.  Wells around the county are drying up; and hay fields are dying all over the county.  We haven’t seen our hay field since we were there at the beginning of June, so we assumed the worst.  We received a call this week, however, that really encouraged us for the first time!

The hay farmer reported that we had the best alfalfa in the entire county, and asked what we did to it!  S told them, NOTHING!  We let nature work, used animals to fertilize, and kept the chemicals away!  In addition, our well unexplainably filled back up recently, after having been run dry.  The only way to explain either of these is that the healthier soil on our property has more water-retention properties.  It holds water better for the plants to grow, and it releases enough water to allow the well to fill, rather than being so dry that it sucks all water out of the well.  We just find this discovery soooo incredibly exciting!!  I can only imagine once we move there and are able to rotate a better variety of animals through, and on a more consistent and intensive-management basis, how the soil will improve even more!

This whole situation reminds me of a story that farmer and author Joel Salatin told in one of his books, about how a drought had begun drying up the pastures all around his area.  Thanks to the health of his soil, though, he was able to continue grazing his cattle, while other farmers were having to tap into their winter hay stores.  One day, while he was out working in the field, a man stopped and asked why his grass was so much healthier than all the neighboring farms?  Having learned from experience that the local modern farmers didn’t care to hear about how their practices destroyed the soil, he simply shrugged his shoulders and said, “I guess it just rains more on our fields!”  Later that day, the man went to his buddy’s house just down the road a bit.  The buddy had been haying his cattle for some time by then, and the friend asked about Salatin’s healthy fields that were still being grazed.  The buddy said, “Yeah, we know.  I guess he just gets more rain than we do!”

I laugh every time I think of that story, but it is becoming increasingly clear to us that God designed nature to work a certain way.  He designed man to work the fields, and threw in a bit of extra toil thanks to the sinful nature of man, but He still had a way that always works best when we let it!  I was reminded of this again recently, as I walked down an asphalt drive in our high-altitude, drought stricken, dead and brown landscape of easter Colorado.  I looked down and noticed that, despite the drought, and the death of the fields around me, there a little stalk of grass poking up through the asphalt.  God created nothing short of a miracle when He designed Mother Nature, with her infinite and unexplainable ability to heal her lands and produce, even when all environmental odds are against her.  I hope I never forget these little pieces of encouragement that remind me of that fact, and to remind me that, though it could take some time, trusting in God and nature’s abilities will eventually pay off!!