A friend of mine who attended the Redeeming the Dirt Conference, Mr. Tony Konvalin, wrote a wonderful article about his thoughts on the weekend. He kindly gave me permission to re-post his blog entry here for the benefit of my readers that don’t already enjoy his blog, http://www.cultivatedforgod.com/blog/. Thanks for taking the time to put this together Mr. Tony.
Thoughts on the Redeeming the Dirt Conference
Well, after being back from the Redeeming the Dirt Conference, held in Rockford Alabama, for a few days I figured it was time to write down some thoughts while they are still fresh.
The conference was just north of Rockford Alabama at Poplar Point Camp, probably about 1 hour south of Birmingham. Most people stayed in the dorm style housing that was provided and this worked well to allow people to interact in someplace other than just at the conference center. Most conferences I have been to while having good fellowship house people in a way that often affects the dynamic but I have to say this set up worked out so as to help us know each other better. at least for me it did. The setting was also nice as the camp is nestled in the trees and thus there were few distractions and I was even able to get in a couple peaceful runs.
As far as the schedule, it was indeed full but there was still adequate time to talk to each other and get to know people from all over the country. Part of this was due to there being, I heard at one point, 70 people which is a great turn out for a conference such as this and about the right amount of people to be able to get to know most of the participants at some level. Both Friday and Saturday we started with breakfast at 7AM and the conference talks began at 8AM, ending around 7:30 – 8:00 PM with fellowship going on afterwards till much later. While the conference ended Saturday those that could stay, I could not, did so for church at the conference center and a visit to Noah Sanders farm afterwards. Again, I did not get to visit Noah’s farm other than for some demonstrations on Friday but from what I hear, and saw in pictures it was a good time in seeing how Noah has been working to honor God with his farming.
As far as the conference I would like to break it down into two areas: Fellowship and Teaching. I do this as they were the two aspects that stuck out to me as what made this conference as good as it was.
I guess I forgot to add Columbia KY
Regarding fellowship it was encouraging to see 70+ people from all over the US at a conference with a goal of looking at Farming to the Glory of God. This is not a subject many think of let alone would set time aside to attend and hear talks on such a subject. I am sure some came to hear farming tips and principles, I sort of was expecting this, but in truth the bulk of the time was focused on God and His part in the process of agriculture and how agriculture can be used by God to lead people to Himself for His glory. This focus on God first is important, as that is what we need to be focused on in whatever we do, including farming. There was also an intentional focus placed on people getting to know each other so that once leaving the conference there would still be fellowship at some level thus helping people stay focused on God as the center of ones agricultural endeavors.
Personally, I met a great number of people. Some I knew from the Internet and others I had never met in any way before. While the Internet can be a tool to connect people one cannot replace actual personal contact and this conference helped facilitate just that. It was interesting to hear how people found out about the conference and their reasons for coming. The range was everywhere from those that somehow read Noah’s book “Born Again Dirt” and then his blog and found out about the conference. There were others that were familiar with Foundations for Farming and when they found out Brian Oldreive and Craig Deall were to be at the conference decided to come. Others had connections with Scott Terry’s Christian Farm and Homestead Radio and came after hearing Noah and Scott Terry speak about the conference. Still others just came across the conference by God’s providential hand and were interested in hearing what was to be said. One of the people I talked to truly revealed the mysterious way God’s providential hand works in that he was searching the internet and came across Blog Talk Radio and when looking there did a search for “Christian” and in doing so up pops Christian Farm and Homestead Radio. He then listened to the show and in doing so ended up hearing about the conference. Now that is God’s hand at work.
The range of where people were with regards to agriculture ran the gambit. Some were not yet farming or homesteading but were looking to do so some time in the future. Others were just getting started, much like my family, while others were farther down the farming road and seeking to see how God was to be seen in the endeavor. This wide range allowed much conversation as you soon found out that no matter where people are on the agrarian journey there is something you can learn from them and they from you. God often reveals different information and insights to His people and it is through fellowship around Him that we share in His revelation.
I left the conference with the contact info of a number of people that I hope to stay in touch with in the future. I believe it is this staying in contact with others God has brought into our paths that God will use to help us stay the course in pursuing an agrarian life, no matter the stage of it one is in, for His glory. I pray that those attending the conference will not allow the positive affect such a conference can have shortly afterwards diminish over time. But, through the friendships made we will continue to glorify God in the care and stewardship of His creation. I pray that lasting friendships will develop and not simply be fleeting as they often are after such conferences.
This is where I think that while the subject matter was not entirely as expected I actually got more than expected. Again, while I knew the conference was to have a focus on God I figured the talks would center on farming practices and then in some manner relate them to God and His direction for how we are to steward His creation. Well, there was indeed a focus on us being stewards and how that is to relate to how we do what we do but there was not as much application as I came in thinking we would get. That said I was not disappointed.
Brian Oldreive and Craig Deall
The speakers were:
Brian Oldeive – Foundations for Farming
Crag Deall – Foudations for Farming
Jack Dody – Abundaculture
Robert Bruce Davis – Agstrong
Chuck Bentley – Crown Financial
Noah Sanders – Redeeming the Dirt
What I will do is give a brief overview of what each person covered in their talks. It is my understanding that at some time the talks will be available and when I find out more on that I will post on how to obtain them.
Brian Oldreive, who is the founder of Foundations for Farming (formerly Farming God’s Way), was the main speaker and spoke on a number of topics including his background in Zimbabwe which truly shows how God works in, and through, His people. Many years ago Mr. Oldreive, due to his convictions, decided to give up growing tobacco and ended up losing the farm he was on due to this choice. He then began working on another farm, before again having his own farm. In the process of farming he saw great losses due to the methods used so he sought to find out how God wanted him to steward the land. In doing so he changed the process he previously used for farming and began to be more focused on minimal-tillage with less soil disturbance. With his new insights into farming Mr. Oldreive was able to become one of the most successful farmers in Zimbabwe. Then, in the midst of this success, there came economical and political issues, around 2000, which led to land be taken from the white farmers and once again he lost his farm and all else he had.
What is amazing about this story is that it was not an “Oh Woe’s Me” story. Both Mr. Oldreive and Mr. Deall admitted to much pride in themselves and the other white farmers and shared that God was doing what was needing to be done to correct that pride. The joy in this is that due to God working on their hearts they did not take the expected course of anger and revenge but instead have stayed and worked to the help the Zimbabweans to be successful farmer’s and work themselves out of an economical pit and are still doing so.
In speaking on Africa, and this is most applicable to the USA, he shared that Africa has around 30% of the world’s resources but only has from 1.5% to 3% of the world’s GDP. This disparity is not simply because they do not have what is needed but is caused by many issues of which syncretism was stressed as foremost. Because of this syncretism God is working in them to get the people to rely on Him and not a mixture of God and their local witchdoctors, which many turn to when things are tough. This directly relates to the USA in that we often call ourselves Christians and say we rely on God and while we may not turn to witchdoctors when the chips are down we do turn to many other humanistic means, the Gov’t being our prime source of comfort. If we do not turn from our ways God may take us down the Zimbabwean path of economic collapse and poverty to bring us back to Himself.
Foundation for Farming works to help the poor feed themselves and does so in a very successful manner. They have a very detailed plan on how to work the land, with a focus on minimal tillage, and sets out guidelines that are easy to follow and designed to help the people being taught see tangible results. Some may argue with their views on tillage and no plowing. What I would say is they have been diligent to look at God’s word and His creation as well as where they are and the nature of the land that is around them and have devised a system that is working to provide food and restore the land.
We were shown an example of how their system worked by taking a trip out to Noah’s farm. There we saw an example of how the system they use greatly reduces erosion and works to build the soil. We also saw how the procedures they use and teach worked and in doing so it is clear this system while set up for simplicity does not try and avoid the actual work of caring for the land that so many work at avoiding. While I did not see other areas of Noah’s farm that also use the methods of FFF this trip was very beneficial to as they often said – see how one “put boots” to the plan.
The great take away is that we need to realize at all times we are called to make sure we keep God at the forefront of our minds in all we do. The other takeaway is that we are to make sure we do not forget the poor and that while we may always have them with us as Jesus said Matthew 26:11, for any number of reasons, we are still to help them. The way to help the poor is not simply to throw money at them as that just puts them in bondage to the money being given but we are to help them to work to steward what God has given them and in turn feed themselves with all this being used by God to lead them to Himself.
Craig Deall had much the same story with regards to losing all his family had worked to create. His family had carved out 3000 acres, or was it hectares, out of the bush in what was then Rhodesia and had a thriving farm when they ended up losing it as other white farmers did around 2000. He also admitted to pride and if it were not for God working in him he would not have been able to do what he is doing now, stay and work to help the same people that took all that he and his family had. The point again is that God does what He has to do to get our attention and get us to see He is God and we are not. I pray I would be as faithful and forgiving if I am ever in the situation Mr. Oldreive and Deall were placed in.
Jack Dody has a website called AbundaCulture.Org which describes his ministry as:
“Abundaculture is an integrated system that allows a child of God, in dependence upon the Holy Spirit, to access God’s abundance in providing energy, housing, clean water, good food, and sanitary living conditions for himself to share with others.”
He also spoke on caring for the poor and being faithful stewards of God’s creation. He shared a number of stories, often filled with humor, of how in his ministry they have tried many different ways to do things but all with an eye to caring for God’s creation and helping people to use what is around them for their benefit and God’s glory. He has a free resource on his site, also in Spanish, you can download that covers a number of topics from Solar – to water collection – to alternative building methods and many other items. I would encourage you to check out his site as there is much there that would be useful to those homesteading, those looking to homestead or those just wanting to just be more faithful with where God has them. Oh, if you are thinking about a compost toilet Jack is the man to ask. I mention this as it was sort of a running joke because when it was brought up it caught many by surprise, or at least it seemed to. Again check out his very informative and useful site
Robert Bruce Davis of AgStrong spoke on the business he is part of that works with Canola. They even have their own Non-GMO brand called Solio Family Canola Oil that is now sold in such stores as Whole Foods and Sprouts. The crux of his message, as with the others, was in being faithful to God in all we do no matter what it is. He also shared about the business model his company uses helps smaller farmers to have canola as a profitable venture and they have even used a similar business model with grape tomatoes as well. In the small world realm when I heard about the tomatoes it sounded familiar and it became clear this was the same plan I had heard of back around 2009 when we initially looked to move to Tennessee before God said “not now” and obviously “not there.” It truly is a small world.
Chuck Bentley from Crown Financial Ministries also spoke on being faithful with what God provides. Another common thread many of the speakers spoke about was the parable of the talents (Matthew 25:14-30) and that God gives to those that are faithful with what they are given and takes from those that are unfaithful. A picture of what has taken place in such locations as Africa as well as in many of our own lives. We all too often take what we have been given to be stewards over for granted and God is not pleased or glorified by that. God desires us to be faithful stewards and will do what is necessary in the lives of His people to bring that about.
Noah Sanders did a great job of putting the conference together and creating an atmosphere that sought to foster seeking God first in all things and not just as a saying but in actuality. I was not able to attend the farm tour but on Sunday after the church service at the conference center there was a tour of his farm where he has put into practice much of what Foundations for farming has implemented. It is in being able to see the fruit of a plan and system that helps to make that plan come to life and from what I heard that is what many saw on the tour.
Part of Noah’s well cared for garden
When I first met Noah and talked to him about his book, “Born Again Dirt,” I told him that his book was an “Oh Duh” book. That was meant as a compliment because what Noah wrote was not profound in that it was somehow hard to find but that it was plainly obvious – but we often miss the obvious. We as believers have become used to saying we do all to the glory of God but in reality that is all it has become, a saying. We need to move past the platitudes and sayings to actually living out what we proclaim and living as if God is sovereign over all and that we are to glorify Him in all things. So easy to say and much harder to do but I pray that this conference was a start of us as a people of God thinking more biblically about all we do.
I am sure I could have written more and hope this post gave you a flavor of a very full two days. Again, when the recordings come out I will post how you can get copies and encourage you to do so.