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.

Announcing My Upcoming Book, Born Again Dirt

Do you desire to glorify God through the way you farm? Are you tired of reading books on farming that deny God as Creator? Have you ever wondered what agriculture would look like if it was based on the Bible, instead of evolution, Mother Nature, or the latest and greatest manipulative science?
Born Again Dirt is a book written for Christian farmers (or Christians that grow anything) and seeks to give them a Biblical vision for agriculture. This book contends that the way we farm is not unrelated to our relationship with God. Rather, it should be a reflection of it!  As the title of the book communicates, if you are a born again farmer, your dirt needs to be born again as well.
The primary goal of Born Again Dirt is not to convince Christians to adopt a particular farming method. Instead, the intent is to encourage them to begin a journey of seeking to glorify the Lord through applying the principles of Scripture to every aspect of their farms. This book seeks to do that by taking a helpful, though not exhaustive, look at various Biblical principles and considering examples of practical application. Topics covered include:
-Developing a Biblical, agricultural worldview.
-Designing farms as beautiful, fruitful homes.
-Managing your farm as a steward
-Honoring God’s design in farm production
-Growing crops that honor the Lord
-Marketing as ministry
-The idolatry of modern agriculture
-Farming for the lifestyle
-Starting a born again farm
-Making a living farming
Without claiming to know all the answers, Born Again Dirt seeks to encourage you in your pursuit of God-glorifying agriculture . This book is a must read for any Christian who is a full time farmer, backyard gardener, or for anyone who desires a more Biblical view of agriculture.
Lord willing, Born Again Dirt will be released sometime next month. It will be available on my upcoming website, www.bornagaindirt.com. I really am looking forward to seeing how the Lord uses this book for the encouragement of the growing number of Christian farmers.
Currently I am working on editing, and would appreciate your prayers. I only have a short time to work on it before growing season hits. Over the next few weeks I will try to give you updates and more info as I make progress. To God be the Glory.
“Of making many books there is no end, and much study wearies the body.” Ecclesiastes 12:12

Why Does God Want us to Farm?

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There seems to be something about farming that is special. It is normally not the most lucrative occupation, and many times farmers today lose money farming. Most farmers work a ‘city’ job so they can continue to afford to farm. So why do they keep farming? Well, I believe the main reason is because they enjoy it.

I enjoy farming. I know that I would farm for free if my bills could still be met. There is something about being able to be outside, working in the dirt, watching things grow, feeding the animals, and harvesting the fruits of your labor that seems to fill an inward desire to steward the land.

When I rise early in the morning the waking dawn is just breathtaking. Doing the chores is satisfying as well as great exercise. Basically what I get to do is go around and make the animals happy. Give them feed, fill their water, move their shelters, etc., and when they are happy, my job is done. My daily work on the farm is never the same and changes with the seasons. There are somewhat hard jobs, like processing chickens, setting out thousands of transplants, or working in the heat of the summer. But they don’t last forever and I can finish and move on to something else. There is always something to look forward to. Looking forward to planting the first seeds in spring. Looking forward to harvesting the first crops of summer. Looking forward to the cooler weather of fall. Looking forward to the rest and projects of winter. And the majority of the time I am at home and get to eat every meal with my family, as well as work with them. Almost every day I find myself falling more in love with farming.

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But I have begun to realize that merely farming because I enjoy it isn’t necessarily a proper primary motive for me as a Christian. And it’s not a very reliable one either. Because at times there are definitely things I don’t enjoy about farming. Like doing the chores in the rain and mud. Or finding chickens that have been killed by predators . As a Christian, my life is not all about farming. It’s all about Christ. It’s about doing what pleases the Lord who created me, loves me, and saved me. This means that my farming needs to be motivated out of a love for God, not just a love for farming.

Though there are many aspects to God’s commands, we are told that they are all summed up by one thing. Love. Love for God, and love for your neighbor. If our farms are to bring glory to God they must be motivated first and foremost by a love for God and man.

Love is such a misunderstood term today that I probably need to take a moment to give a biblical definition of love. Love is not the mushy gushy, fickle, emotional feeling that American culture tells us. Rather, God is love. Through the ultimate display of love of all time, Jesus showed us that love is an act of the will, accompanied by emotion, that produces action on behalf of its object, even at great personal cost. “This is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his son to be an atoning sacrifice for our sins.” It is this type of love that must motivate our farms.

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Most Born Again farmers would probably agree that love should be the motive for farming, but how many of us actually farm as if that were the case? How many Christians go into farming today because of a desire to love God and others? On other hand, how many Christians never go into farming because there are easier and better paying jobs? What does that say about our motives? Of course we all claim that it’s not about the money and that there is nothing wrong with work. But then we go and evaluate something like farming primarily based on how much money we could make rather than on how it enables us to be in a position to serve God and others. We need to repent of claiming to have God’s values, then turning around and applying the World’s values.

If farming is to be motivated by love, does the Bible explain any further what that means? In 1 Thessalonians 4 Paul is writing to urge the brothers to live in order to please God. He then tells them to avoid sexual immorality and encourages them in their love for one another. He then sums up by giving what I consider an application of what love should look like in our lives.

“Make it your ambition to lead a quiet live, to mind your own business and to work with your hands, just as we told you, so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody.” (1 Thess. 4:11,12)

There are four major applications I believe this verse calls us to.

1.-Godly lifestyle: To promote and support, restful, God-focused living.
2.-Stewardship: To work and care for creation.
3.-Testimony: To display the work of the Gospel.
4.-Provision: To provide for the needs of people.

Lord willing, I will talk more about these applications in later posts.

Let’s consider today, “Why do I farm?” Is it primarily from a self-centered motive or a Christ-centered motive? I find both motives in my own heart daily. May the Lord enable us to continually redeem our dirt by removing our selfishness and replacing it with Christ.