Why I Farm
October 20, 2020
When I was a kid, my granddad would always ask me what I wanted to be when I got “big and fat” (his way of saying “what do you want to be when you grow up”). I never knew how to respond, in many ways, I still don’t thirty years later. I am a full time pastor. Over the years, I have earned several graduate degrees in my field and I enjoy the work. However, I am also called to farm. It is a strange feeling indeed.While growing up, my brothers and I helped my dad, a veterinarian, raise cows. We spent a lot of Saturdays building fences and working cattle. Most mornings in the fall we would feed several hundred pounds of bagged feed to new calves that my dad had purchased. It was hard work, but I enjoyed it.
One fall after my dad sold a crop of feeder steers, I vaguely remember my older brother asking my dad, how much money “we made” that year on cattle. The answer was none. The running joke in our family is “Do you know how to make a small fortune in the cattle business? Start out with a large fortune.” So why would someone want to do so much work for no or little return? In July of 2017, we moved back home to Mississippi from South Georgia where I was a pastor. Prior to that Megan (my wife from Yazoo County, Mississippi), our three girls and I had lived in Jackson, MS; Atlanta, GA; and Princeton, NJ for school. My family’s decision to move back to Mississippi was a complicated one, but it revolved around wanting to be closer to our families. Further, over the course of the 17 years that I had been away from home, I began having progressively worse complications from ulcerative colitis. I needed to drastically alter my lifestyle. In Georgia, I had already begun gardening so that I could eat healthier foods. But I found that healthy foods no longer contain the same levels of nutrition that they had historically contained because of selectively breeding them for shipping and because of how they are grown. I began growing our foods organically. Pleasantly, I discovered that fresher, local, organically grown foods are not only much healthier, but they also tasted better. I reduced and eventually eliminated the drugs I was taking for ulcerative colitis and for a couple years my health improved significantly, though I had lingering symptoms.
When I returned home, I started gardening on the farm. To my surprise, the soil was very poor. The decades before my dad started running cattle, the fields had been in conventional row crops, especially cotton. The soils were worn out and contained few nutrients and biological activity. With an eye on building the soil, I collected thousands bags of leaves from town to enrich the garden soil. I also experimented with cover crops. The garden soils improved dramatically, but even three years later, they still need some work. I enjoyed the physical work. Even more, there is something magical, or spiritual, about seeing something worn out slowly come back to life. It helped improve my heath significantly. The first beef that we finished was for our family in the Fall of 2017. We raised some egg laying chickens and started selling eggs in January of 2018. In the Spring of 2019 we started raising and selling pastured meat chickens. In the Fall of 2019 we acquired our first pigs and started selling their meat in the Spring of 2020. In 2018 we acquired our first beehive and in 2019 we trapped several more hives of bees. Though we have suspended our egg laying operation for now, we continue to produce grass finished beef, pasture raised pork, pastured meat chickens, and honey for our customers. We sell our beef and pork by individual cuts and by whole and half animals. Our meat chickens we sell whole per MDAC guidelines.
While I continue to pastor a local church full-time, I often ask myself why I continue to farm. Frankly, I love the physicality of the work. Also, I find that I am often doing a variety of different tasks that keeps me engaged. Further, I enjoy doing something on the farm that my family has been doing for several generations. However, there are deeper reasons that are difficult to articulate. It is fascinating to see land that has been worn out by decades of conventional farming slowly come back to life without the need for synthetic or chemical inputs. The regeneration that takes place is awe-inspiring. Working with nature, creation, the earth and seeing how it is coaxed back to a more productive life is redemptive. In ways that I do not fully understand, by farming I help heal myself, the land, creation, and hopefully those who purchase the food we raise.