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Restoration and Relationship

“He restoreth my soul.” Ps 23:3

It is Sunday evening. The third Sunday of May 2020 to be exact. And my soul is once again restored. It is on this day (for as long as I can remember and for generations before me) that my family gathers to decorate our ancestor’s graves. Then we join other families in the old church, sit on the wooden pews, and sing the old hymns with the help of the pump organ.This pilgrimage does not shed the layers of life and grief, nor does it make me a child again. But it adds a richness to the joys and heartaches of my years as I reconnect with those who have come before and wonder about who will follow.

Those who were formative in shaping my reverence for such things were mainly farmers. At least they had a connection with a farm or a garden patch. Everyone did. And now I do.

Tomorrow is the beginning of a new week. Every Monday morning, we have a farm strategy meeting with our coffee. There are always the tedious items – fix the tractor, clean out the eggmobiles – but we try never to lose sight of the holistic context under which we feel called to care for this place. At Sister Grove Farm, our priority is not raising animals or even growing grass, although it may look like it. Our priority is the soil. Everything we do (the way we graze, the application of compost tea, the keyline plowing, etc.) is about rebuilding and restoring the heath of the soil. Our soils globally have been depleted of nutrients through practices that encourage erosion and, in the last century, through the exploitive mining operation called industrial agriculture.

Restoration of the soil, on even the most degraded land, can occur through regenerative agricultural practices that rebuild healthy topsoil instead of losing it to erosion. There is a richness and a tilth that the soil acquires through these practices that recognize a farm as an ecosystem of relationships. Layers of organic matter from previous years decompose, deepen, and enrich newer layers. Water is conserved, and roots grow deeper.

Today I am reminded of the strength and resilience of deep roots. They withstand drought and weather the storm of unexpected pandemics. Healthy soil is not a thing and healthy people are not mere individuals. Soil is a community of organisms, living and dead, held together in such a way that they regenerate the possibility of life. Just as soil is the soul of the earth, our souls are the soil of our being.

When I sit in the church and hear the pump organ play, the memories do wash over me and I never leave without my cheek getting wet. I will be reminded of that in the morning as the dew will linger on the ground and kiss this patch of earth we call Sister Grove Farm. As the sun rises over each day and dries the face of the pasture, may she be restored and renewed along with all who live here and visit.

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