Folks that have had the fortune to find themselves sitting under the shade tree at my family’s farm might have a hard time explaining to those who haven’t what takes place there. For those who have, they always come back. People I sat with as a child, now bring their grandkids there. Out of state grandkids bring their grandparents (who are beyond their driving years) over when they are in town. Whether its a weekly visitor or someone who hasn’t been by in 5 years, they always want to see the garden. Even in the dead of winter, they want to see the garden, and possibly get a few collard greens that may be left behind. It is a special place and I am blessed by God to be able to raise the fourth generation on it.
We do not make enough money farming to call it our occupation, but it is part of our vocation. This 40 acres enabled my family to survive when my grandfather died in the late 1950s. My widowed grandmother and her sister set hand to plow and used the resources of the land to raise six children. Growing food here is so ingrained in my father and uncles that not having one would betray all that the land and community, through God’s mercy, has given them over the years.
In practical terms, farming teaches. Aside from the obvious lessons about planting, tractor repair, harvesting, and food storage the farm becomes an extension of the domestic church. Christ taught with farming parables because it is impossible to farm and not learn about God and His love.
The traditional Catholic liturgical calendar mirrors the seasonal cycle of the farm heavily. Take for example the color of the Church’s vestments. The colors and the timing for the colors sit in perfect accord with what is happening at the farm. The Lent and Advent purple in early spring and late fall are times of spiritual preparation and pruning as the farm is fallowed, pruned and prepared. The glorious blooms and harvest of spring along with the great celebration of the final harvest coincide with the beautiful white and gold of Christmas and Easter. The times outside of these, by no means ordinary, are green when everything is growing, including our virtue and interior life in Christ. Ember days and Rogation days call to mind our sin and allow us to plead with God for his mercy and bountiful harvest. Man owes his life to six inches of topsoil and the fact that God sends rain, and so every day we get to farm is a day to grow closer to our Heavenly goal.
Our family has grown closer to each other and to God by farming. The conversations that take place as we farm together are priceless. More importantly for my children, lessons about work, leisure, and festivity are instilled. Receiving the fruits of our labor and giving it others to enjoy, selling some to pay for next year’s endeavors, or using them to create great meals for a holiday teaches us that the toil of our work can never be separated from the festivity of our Catholic faith. If you are saying to yourself, “that’s nice, but I live in the city and have a six inch pot of dirt that I can farm.” A pot of dirt? Grow something! Your ability to experience the work of tilling the soil and its accomplishment differs by degree, not kind.