Cultivating and Caring for the Earth: Human and Spiritual Issues of Agroecology

The Bible very often refers to the agricultural world of the time, to its habits and customs. It is interesting to see that in agroecology, we did not invent anything but that we benefit from natural laws. We have to observe nature: what benefits can we draw from it, what lessons should we learn, what behaviors should we adopt?

DIn the Bible, Noah is considered the first farmer. In the book of Genesis it is written that he “tilled the land and planted a vineyard”. In the biblical account, men are considered to begin to be farmers from the flood. We know that the first men were hunter-gatherers: they harvested what nature gave them. During the Neolithic period, between 7 and 000 years BC, the way of life changes profoundly. Man becomes sedentary, he lives in villages. He raises animals and cultivates plants, wheat, barley. He thus becomes a producer of his food, it is the beginning of agriculture with the creation of the first tools.

He who cultivates his field is full of bread, but he who pursues vain things is meaningless.
12 Proverbs

A slightly mischievous friend pointed out to me that Jesus was the first agroecologist! He was referring to the account in the Gospel of Matthew 13, where Jesus said not to pull up the weeds, the weeds in the middle of the wheat, lest they pull up the wheat. He recommends letting it grow until harvest! Are weeds useful?

From essentially peasant agriculture before the 1950s, we have moved to an agro-industrial era with an increasingly massive contribution of fertilizers and pesticides. At the same time, soil fertility has deteriorated significantly… Why? Because weeds are also the ones that bring life to the soil. And how is this life brought to the ground? The soil needs air to live; plants, by drawing oxygen from the air, transport it to the soil via its roots. They aerate the soil and they also bring all the nutrients necessary for the bacterial development of the soil.

There is a very intense life in the soil which makes nutrients available directly to the roots: earthworms which aerate the soil, micro-fauna including bacteria, algae, fungi will allow many exchanges. This life will be for the benefit of the plant, which will be able to draw its own food more easily from the soil. A “clean” soil without grass degrades very quickly and loses all its dynamism: the soil becomes infertile (and this is made worse by the use of chemicals). The first basis of good agroecology is not to leave the soil bare. This also allows soil moisture to be maintained, a microclimate, a symbiosis that is beneficial to better production.

  • Permanent plant cover should be the first rule

You all know the natural cycle of vegetation, whether it is herbaceous, shrub or forest. Trees have the ability through their roots to draw nutrients from the soil at great depths.

Enzymes on their roots dissolve rocks and stones, and convert these minerals into nutrients. These will allow the growth of the shrub or tree and the growth of leaves. These will fertilize the soil by falling to the ground. This principle is used in agroforestry where crops are mixed with tree plantations. Ensure that there are sufficient trees. This cover also allows for heat regulation by protecting crops in the middle of summer. It also maintains a certain freshness allowing limit water intake or even do without it

  • The second rule is therefore to have the presence of trees to facilitate this natural cycle.

The economic aspect is also important. By using the natural resources available locally, respecting nature, it is not necessary to use expensive inputs that only have a "mathematical" impact on the culture. Moving from this peasantry who knew all these processes, where the observation of nature is the best teacher, to so-called "modern" techniques, the farmer has become a mathematician: so many NPK elements (nitrogen, phosphorus, potash) per hectare to produce x quintals, (the same for animals where we will calculate the food "bowl" to have such production of milk or meat) without worrying about the nutritional quality of its production. The pressure of the agro-industrial world, of chemistry prevailed over the wisdom of the one who knew how to cultivate his land ... (And the agricultural crises follow one another!) Why buy expensive products, fertilizers and pesticides when a good management of its own resources (including composting) allows good harvests with better nutritional quality.

  • The third rule, a source of savings, is to restrict external contributions to move towards natural self-sufficiency and, moreover, a financial balance.

Observe nature, respect it, and it brings us in return what it has most beautiful. All agroecological techniques are to be developed in comparison with the laws of nature itself. They make it possible to increase soil fertility, and even to cultivate on very poor soils, shallow soils and desert areas. The deserts bloom again, the soils regain their water retention capacity, the soils become more fertile and the earth produces its fruit.

  • The fourth rule is to use methods that have a positive impact on soil fertility

Feed humanity

The main issue of agriculture is to feed humanity. A UN report states that in ten years by developing agroecology, production can be multiplied by 2 or 3. This year 2017 another UN right to food report underlines the deleterious consequences of pesticides on fauna, flora and humans and calls for the gradual abandonment of industrial agriculture. Agroecology is particularly suited to small structures: 80% of farms in the world are small family farms. It is also adaptable on larger farms with conservation methods such as plant cover and abandonment of plowing.

Respect for creation and man

If we seek to approach nature, its example we must respect it. We have seen with what abundance the earth can bear "fruit" and give our food. Creation is exponential, there are no limits to the blessings it brings us. But what use do we make of its wealth?

This Creation is very sick because of our greedy pursuit of profit : performance is the very opposite of a simple and shared life. What will be our personal choice or our choice of society? In the biblical text, the harvest, the grape harvest, the harvest are all blessings that the Creator grants us.

Knowing how to cultivate the land and take care of it connects us to all of humanity. We depend on each other. Let us know how to bear fruit in all seasons. Let us know how to bring life to creation, to our garden, to our lands, as well as to our fellow human beings.

Nathanael Bechdolff

The gardens of Chanabier

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