The Danger of Cultivating a Victim Mentality as Farmers

Underpaid. Overworked. Undervalued. These descriptions have almost become synonymous with farming. There is a degree of truth in these words. In the U.S. the average farm income earned by farm households is estimated to be -$1,093 (off-farm jobs keep them afloat). The debt and lack of support community has resulted in suicide rates among farmers being higher even than those of military veterans. And just this morning I was reading about the farm bill and how farm groups were concerned about cuts in the subsidies farmers receive from the government.

But we must guard against feeling victimized as farmers. For many of us farmers much of the appeal of our profession has to do with the feeling of freedom, independence, heritage and self-reliance that comes from making a living off the land. Whatever our motivations, somewhere along the line we can fall prey to a victim mentality that robs us of our freedom and the abundance God has given us.

Agricultural Cynicism

As farmers it’s easy to become cynical. We can slip into thinking that our woes are all due to things that are out of our control; the weather, the government, the markets, the price of fertilizer, fuel, etc. At times we can become known for complaining, stinginess, and pride (just listen to the conversations at the feed store!).

I don’t think any of us farmers want to be cynics, but after so many failures and disappointments cynicism can become a self defense mechanism against future disappointment. Understandable, but the danger is that we begin to identify ourselves as victims/martyrs who are dutifully growing food for the ungrateful masses of the world. It’s easy to no longer feel responsible for the lack of profit or the poor land stewardship on our farms. As victims we no longer see ourselves as part of the problem, or the possible solution.

A Perspective of Scarcity

To be sure, farming has always been a risky undertaking involving things out of our control. Or at least the risk is more visible and tangible than in some professions. But perhaps we as farmers have adopted a scarcity mindset that doesn’t reflect a trust in the abundant nature of our Creator. This can cause us to see the world around us from a more limited perspective than is true in reality. Consider the following statements that might be heard among farmers today.

1. “You’ve got to get big or get out.”

2. “There ain’t no money in farming”

3. “People don’t appreciate all the work that goes into growing the food they eat.”

4. “Young people today just aren’t interested in farming.”

5. “The government needs to help farmers so that people don’t starve!”

These statements are all based on things we have experienced or seen. But the problem is that they reflect a mindset of scarcity and victimization. With a victim mentality we look at situations fatalistically, not really thinking that there are things we could change about our mindset and heart that might make a difference. We think it all has to do with lack of available resources.

God’s Promise of Provision

But the truth is the God has promised to be our provider and will always provide us what we need to accomplish the good works (including farming!) that he has given us to do. 2 Corinthians 9:8 says “And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.” This truth can give us a different lens to see our situation through. Here’s an example of how we might look at the situations mentioned above in a different light.

1. Growing commodities for the wholesale market may require large infrastructure, but there are other business opportunities for those with more limited resources!
God calls us to be faithful with what we have, and if he calls us to farm he can give us wisdom to use the resources available to creatively produce good food for people. There are many examples today of small, even micro-scale farms that are very profitable. Jean Martin Fortier and Curtis Stone are some examples of profitable micro-farmers.

2. Making a good live from a profitable farming may not be easy, but it doesn’t mean it can’t be done!
Merely growing food doesn’t guarantee profitability, same as any other business. Just because some people can run a restaurant and lose money doesn’t mean the restaurant business can’t be profitable. If God has called us to farm he can show us how to run a profitable business. We must be willing to grow and adjust our production and marketing models to best serve people with the food they need and want.

3. Many people don’t realize what it takes to produce their food, so we should take opportunities to connect with the people who eat our products!
Most people are not as appreciative of the work that goes into growing their food, but the same could be said about the work that goes into producing most things people rely on everyday. It’s mainly due to the disconnect we have because of the large-scale, wholesale, non-relational model of our economy. So who can blame consumers? If we as farmers want more appreciation all we have to do is work to build relationships with those who actually eat the food we produce.

4. Not many young people are getting into farming, so there’s an opportunity to find ways to make farming more attractive and teach young people to value what farming offers!
Farming doesn’t seem a top priority for many young people, but when what farming offers (fulfilling work, simple living, etc.) is not what our culture is teaching kids to value should we be surprised? Even with that there are many young people interested in farming (John Deere makes a lot of money selling farm-theme toys) but they end up being discouraged from pursuing it by the ‘scarcity’ mentality of those who are in farming. As scarcity-minded farmers we don’t normally offer many attractive opportunities to younger people due to a felt-need to ‘hold-on’ to and protect what we’ve got. Generosity and abundance is attractive, stinginess and scarcity are not. If we sow generously to the younger generation, we will reap generously.

5. God has given us more resources than we can realize as farmers in our land, family, and community, and we should never have the need to rely on government handouts!
Of course this doesn’t mean that God’s plan for us doesn’t sometimes include going out of business. But even when he allows that we can trust that it is for our ultimate good. We do need farmers, but we need good farmers, and no farm operation is so sacred that we have a duty to prop it up when it continues to prove financially unviable. Unprofitability should be an indication of the need for adjustments to farming systems, management and marketing. We as farmers should definitely help each other get through hard times. But we aren’t entitled to succeed, and getting bailed out by government subsidies can actually hurt us by not forcing us to make needed changes. The government does not always have a good track record for motivating us to run profitable farms. They end up both paying farmers for unprofitable crops and paying farmers to grow no crops at all!

Living in Light of God’s Character

The truth of the matter is that God is our provider, helper, and teacher. As farmers when we live with a mindset of scarcity, entitlement and victimization then we are not living in light of the truth of who God is. We are not living gratefully or generously. God has promised to give us abundance where we can live generously towards our families and those around us. Let’s ask Him to change our hearts and beliefs so that we can begin breaking free from the lies that hold us back and become farmers who reflect the character of God to the world around us.

Foundations for Farming Course at the 2018 Lamplighter Guild!

I am excited to announce that I will be teaching a Foundations for Farming Agriculture Course at the 2018 Lamplighter Guild in Mount Morris, New York, July 8-13!

The goal of the Lamplighter Guild is to kindle a renaissance of creative excellence that inspires one to know God intimately, proclaim Him passionately, and enjoy Him infinitely. It is an inspirational experience where faith meets purpose and where purpose ignites passion.

This past week I spoke with Mark Hamby, founder of Lamplighter, on his podcast, Fastened Like Nails. You can find the link to the podcast below:

Fastened Like Nails Podcast

You can find out more about the course I am offering, the Guild, or registration at https://www.lamplighterguild.com/horticulture

Lamplighter is offering an early-bird discount through January 31st, so if you are interested go ahead and pray about registering soon.

I hope to see you there!

Course Description:

Stewarding the land was one of the first tasks God gave to man. It is one of the most basic and essential expressions of the job we have been given of ruling the earth. But few people in the church today have anything to do with agriculture. And sadly Christians often have a reputation of being destroyers of the land. There are many serious challenges facing agriculture around the world. The world is looking for answers about how we are going to feed people in the years to come. The heart of this class is to equip Christians to be leaders in agriculture by basing their gardens and farms in the foundation of Jesus’ humility, unselfishness, and faithfulness. Then they can model the excellence that comes from respecting the design of God in Creation and share the heart of Jesus that is behind it. Agriculture done with this perspective can be a powerful tool for making disciples in communities.

The methods taught in this class are based in simple, yet powerful principles revealed by God in the story of Foundations for Farming, an agricultural discipleship ministry based in Zimbabwe, Africa. God used a bankrupt white commercial farmer named Brian Oldreive to discover God’s simple ways of growing plants and he ended up being one of the most successful farmers in all of Africa. But God then called him to share what he had learned with the poor, and the result has made an incredible impact all over Africa and the world.

This class will cover three levels of Agriculture:

  1. Backyard Food Production: How to successfully grow some of your own food.
    1. Soil management
    2. Garden layout
    3. Compost
    4. Vegetable production
    5. Using your Garden to share the Gospel
  2. Homesteading: How to grow a lot of what you eat.
    1. The homesteading lifestyle
    2. Field crops
    3. Chickens
    4. Milk cows
    5. Homestead design
    6. Infrastructure
    7. Ministry of Hospitality
  3. Market Farming: How to grow food for other people and get paid for it.
    1. Management difference for commercial production
    2. Developing a business plan
    3. Marketing
    4. Commercial production techniques
    5. Ministry opportunities

3 Things We Can’t Miss if We Want to Grow Spiritually

I know many northern gardeners probably don’t grow much okra, but in the southern part of the U.S. here in Alabama we grow a lot of it. Hailing from the continent of Africa, in the late summer it is a staple when other plants have given up in our southern heat. Picking can be quite the chore (the pods grow so fast you have to pick every other day) and it is normally a relief when the first frost puts an end to their generosity.

Several seasons ago I had an okra patch that was looking great. The plants grew large and had lots of healthy looking foliage. But even though they were growing well they lacked something. Blooms and okra pods! Since I had planted them for food and not just for looks I wasn’t exactly pleased.

The Unfruitful Fig Tree
Jesus once told a parable about a fig tree with a similar problem. “A man had a fig tree, planted in his vineyard, and he went to look for fruit on it, but did not find any. So he said to the man who took care of the vineyard, ‘For three years now I’ve been coming to look for fruit on this fig tree and haven’t found any . Cut it down! Why should it use up the soil?’ ‘Sir,’ the man replied, ‘leave it alone for one more year, and I’ll dig around it and fertilize it. If it bears fruit next year, fine! If not, then cut it down.’” (Luke 13:6-9)

As Christians we should all want to mature in our walk with Christ and bear fruit. We want to get a ‘Well done, good and faithful servant!’ at the end of our life. But how do we measure maturity? How do we know if we are being faithful so we can bear fruit? Here are three things I would encourage us to monitor if we want to grow spiritually.

1. How much we Know of what God tells us.
One area we need to monitor in our life is how we are progressing in our knowledge of who God is, what He has done, and what He requires. If we love him, we will want to hear from Him, especially through the Bible, God’s love letter to us. The more we grow in our relationship with Him, the more we will know about Him and the more we will want to know. One way we can evaluate this in our lives is by measuring how familiar we are with the Bible and the stories of how God has worked throughout history.

2. How much we DO of what we know God tells us.
Another area we need to monitor in our lives is our level of consistent obedience to what we have learned about what God requires of us. How well do our lives reflect what we have been learning about who God is? Just like with my okra or the fig tree in the parable above, just being a good looking plant isn’t enough, we have to bear fruit. Jesus said his disciples will be known by their fruit. We can’t just say “But I am a Christian! I know a lot about the Bible!” My okra plants could claim, “But we are okra plants!” But we can claim to know God and deny Him with our actions. (Titus 1:16) We are told that even the Demons believe in God. The evidence of our faith comes when we act as if the knowledge we claim is true.

3. How much we SHARE with others of what we do (of what we know God tells us).
In Matthew 5 Jesus tells us, “Whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the Kingdom of Heaven.”(emphasis mine) If we have learned something from God and found it to be true as we have lived it out, then we will want to share it with others! Sharing is both evidence that we really believe something and a way that we can find out how well we really do know something! As a father there have been many things I thought I knew until my sons or wife asked me to explain it to them. To obey Jesus’ great commission to make disciples we must be progressing in our desire to share with and model for others in our lives.

Finding Balance
Often I fall into measuring my maturity in Christ in just one of the areas above. In the Church especially we often tend to use knowledge of spiritual things as a measurement for how spiritually mature someone is. But that means nothing because Satan probably knows more Scripture than any Christian alive. Instead, our maturity is measured wherever our knowledge, application, and sharing have all reached the same level. It is the balance of the three. Sometimes a newer Christian can end up maturing beyond an older one even if they have less knowledge because they are actually obeying and applying the little they do know.

Basic Faith in Action
The balance of knowledge, application, and sharing is just basic faith. It is evidence that we believe in something. If I say I believe that heirlooms varieties produce the best vegetables, but I grow hybrids, do I really believe it? If I really believe that Brandywine tomatoes are the best, then I will not only know why, but I will grow them and encourage others to do the same! Why do we think it should be any different with our faith in Jesus?

Without balancing these basic areas of faithfulness we can’t expect to see fruit in our lives. With my unfruitful okra plant I eventually ‘switched’ them with a stick which shocked them into producing fruit. Sometimes God, in His mercy, brings trials in our lives to help us wake up to the reality of what we are actually putting our faith in. Other times He gives us time, just like in the fig tree parable. But may we all be motivated out of love and fear of God to be faithful and produce fruit so we can bring Glory to the One who has saved us.

What about you? Is there something that has been particularly helpful to you in growing as a Christian? How have you tried to find balance with these three things in your spiritual growth? Do you have a point of disagreement? I welcome any feedback or discussion in the comments below!