Tending the garden was humankind’s first task. In the words of Genesis 2:15: “The Lord God then took the man and settled him in the garden of Eden, to cultivate and care for it.” Today, however, there is growing alarm that the way we have been cultivating is bringing our planet to the brink of destruction.
Following World War II, modern agriculture set out to feed the world. In order to produce more food, we adopted the use of synthetic herbicides, pesticides, and fungicides, unintentionally launching a war on the soil. The result has been massive loss of topsoil over an area the size of Africa. And because the remaining soil is depleted and lifeless, our food contains fewer nutrients.
Koinonia Farm, a Christian community in southwest Georgia, began seventy-two years ago on an eroded and almost treeless piece of land. Our focus and passion is the soil, since healthy soil produces healthy food. We practice biological, regenerative farming, using none of the “-cides” (from the Latin -cida, meaning “a killer”); all organisms, even weeds, are important. To build organic matter, we apply compost teas, soil amendments such as molasses and gypsum, and bio-stimulants, and we spray beneficial bacteria, fungi, protozoa, and nematodes. Our goal is soil teeming with diverse life. According to research by the Rodale Institute, rebuilding the soil may even be part of the answer to climate change.
Since embracing this practice, we have seen remarkable growth of biodiversity not only in the soil, but on it and above it. The variety of bird species has dramatically increased. One Koinonia member recently counted more than fifteen types of butterflies on a single walk. Our cattle are grass-fed and serve the soil through a system called intensive grazing, and our chickens follow the cattle from sunup to sundown, sanitizing the land.
Back in 1957, local Ku Klux Klan members angered by Koinonia’s multiracial membership sought to force the community to sell the land and move away. Koinonians refused to go. Founding member Clarence Jordan reflected on their decision:
Fifteen years ago we went there and we bought that old, run-down, eroded piece of land. It was sick. There were gashes in it. It was sore and bleeding. I don’t know whether you’ve ever walked over a piece of ground that could almost cry out to you and say, “Heal me, heal me!” I don’t know whether you feel the closeness to the soil that I do. But when you fill in those old gullies and terrace the fields and you begin to feel the springiness of the sod beneath your feet and you see that old land come to life, and when you walk through a little old pine forest that you set out in little seedlings and now you see them reaching for the sky and hear the wind through them . . . Men say to you, “Why don’t you sell it and move away?” They might as well ask you, “Why don’t you sell your mother?” Somehow God has made us out of this old soil and we go back to it and we never lose its claim on us.
Surely the original soil from which humankind arose was rich and life-filled. At Koinonia, we are making every attempt to set the table for those coming after us. Life begets life.