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A Farmer’s Mission to Reweave Shalom

On Monday, October 7th, I drove south through the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia with three of my colleagues for an interview and farm tour with Joel Salatin at Polyface Farm. If you aren’t familiar with Salatin, he may be the most tree-hugging libertarian you’ll ever come across. He’s also a self-proclaimed Christian and lunatic farmer.

After filming an interview with him in his living room, Salatin graciously offered to cook us omelets with free-range eggs and raw milk fresh off the farm.

As he was beating the eggs, he told us he grew up on Mother Earth News and FEE, which explains his “libertarian-environmentalism.” He wishes everyone would be more considerate of earthworms, but he also wishes the USDA didn’t exist. Politicos in Washington may find this odd, but as a Christian, Salatin doesn’t see his passions as conflicting:

Truth is truth, and it all lines up across all spectrums:  ecology, economy, theology, society. […] Dualism has no place in the Christian credo.

Everything is interwoven in God’s great design. Salatin says his personal mission statement is “to develop emotionally, economically, and environmentally enhancing agricultural prototypes and facilitate their duplication throughout the world.”

IFWE staff at Polyface FarmStaff of the Institute for Faith, Work & Economics with Joel Salatin.

All of the work he does in relation to his farm—whether it’s building ponds to mitigate drought and flooding or fighting to reduce agricultural regulation in Richmond—falls under the umbrella of “stewardship:”

I want to caress creation as a loving steward, knowing that such an attitude and action helps me understand everything: death before life; Jesus’ parables; redemption; the New Earth.

But he laments that many Christians today don’t live integrated lives. “The fact that most Christians can quote John 3:16 but in every other area have more interest in the world’s agenda than God’s agenda should give us pause.”

Salatin—who passionately distinguishes himself as a creator worshipper and not a creation worshipper as he believes many radical environmentalists are—thinks it’s a shame that caring for the environment is associated exclusively with the left. If we truly want to be good stewards to all of life, Salatin believes dedication to creational healing and wellness is a moral imperative for all Christians.

In an excerpt from the book of Jeremiah, the prophet Jeremiah writes a letter to the Israelites in the 6th century B.C. He tells them how they are to live in Babylon during exile:

This is what the LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: “Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the LORD for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper” (Jeremiah 29:4-7).

The word used for peace is the Hebrew word “shalom,” which Cornelius Plantinga defines as:

[…] universal flourishing, wholeness and delight—a rich state of affairs in which natural needs are satisfied and natural gifts fruitfully employed, a state of affairs that inspires joyful wonder as its Creator and Savior opens doors and welcomes the creatures in whom he delights. Shalom, in other words, is the way things ought to be.

As Christians, we are all called to seek the peace and prosperity of our community. We are called to pursue shalom. And one of the tools God has given us to heal the world is our work.

[pullquote]      Redeeming the earth puts flesh and practicality around the theological concept of redeeming the soul.[/pullquote]

Salatin’s life is a quintessential example of “work as shalom” in the way he respects the “pigness of pigs,” understands the profit-and-loss system in creation and defends our food system from “the food police.” He builds forgiveness into his farm through sacrificial devotion to transforming hurting landscapes into beautiful, productive areas.

Salatin says this physical picture of redemption on his farm also has an important spiritual lesson. “Redeeming the earth puts flesh and practicality around the theological concept of redeeming the soul.”

We sat on stacks of hay, our feet dangling over the edge of a wagon as we weaved through 500 acres of green pasture with Joel as our guide. He proudly showed us his chickens, pigs, and cattle, beaming as he explained how he cares for his animals and his land. My boss turned to me and said, “This is what it looks like to reweave shalom.”