It all started because Faye wanted to eliminate white sugar in our diet. “I want to use honey instead, but it’s pretty pricey,” she mused. “Why don’t we get a couple of hives?” I suggested in typical farmer nonchalance.
That brief exchange set off a bunch of events. Now five years later with 320 bee hives, and a small commercial honey business as a key part of our regenerative farm model, we look back and see ways that we believe God was shaping our hearts and guiding us forward.
I began the journey into what you might call “alternate agriculture” in the library of the agricultural advertising agency I worked for – where in the pages of Living at Nature’s Pace by Gene Logsdon, I was introduced to Wendell Berry. I thought at the time he was simply a critic of industrial agriculture. I googled his name and to my surprise an article by Eugene Peterson came up, and the essay Christianity and the Survival of Creation, which Berry delivered at a graduation address at Southern Seminary. Those two articles were the first of many that led me deeper in questioning and facing the concerns I had about overuse of farm chemicals and degradation of soil. And to loving Berry, who is a strong philosophical voice rooted in Christian thought to the brokenness of current agriculture and how it destroys community.
It is not as simple as “conventional is evil” and “organic is righteous.” Living in a farming community like ours has a way of keeping you grounded. Many of the people in our church and community, and indeed our closest friends and family, work conventional farms. Our fellowship is full of people of faith and missional hearts. They care deeply about the land and see themselves as stewards of creation. But they too have an unease that something in the dominant system is broken. They dislike that huge agribusiness interests have excessive control – controlling the seed, dominating the markets and leaving farms with razor thin margins. Not much room for risky change.
We now understand…that “eating is an agricultural act”.
So where will change in farm models come from? If history is any indicator, it will be from small farms like ours whose off farm income allows the risk of change. First, we exited grain farming and moved to a perennially-based grazing system. What on earth could work with that? Bees! They are a perfect stacked enterprise and they are so much better off away from sprays and where polyculture perennials supply flowers all through the season.
Suddenly our food driven experiment had important implications for our farm. Throw in the fact that we were gifted a forklift (a tool we didn’t yet know we needed for bees) and some other less than subtle God nudges, and we are now in the thick of experimenting with biological and regenerative farm models, and bees are both the core income of the venture and at the same time the canary in the mineshaft of agriculture.
We now understand, as Berry has noted, that “eating is an agricultural act” and Faye’s concern about health and eating was the proper and foundational concern to drive change. I believe that the change all of us are dreaming of will come from change in how we eat and understand food. Pass the honey!
The Webbers run the Down to Earth Farm in Brownfield, Alberta.
They are excited to have three generations of their family working together on the land to produce good food. They follow the philosophy of having as little human intervention as possible because nature has an amazing capacity to produce an abundance.