By Jennifer Porter, Program Officer, Vista Hermosa Foundation
Russell Ochieng started working with a farmer who had grown tomatoes on his 3-acres. After they failed, he declared he would never again grow tomatoes and was frustrated that the land was empty. Russell suggested starting with cabbages on a small plot, using the techniques of Farming God’s Way. Cabbages are a hardy plant, almost guaranteed to succeed and when they did the man said, “Well, I think I am a farmer!” Then they moved onto a higher value crop, watermelon. When that was successful, Russell told him, “Now I want to break your fear with tomatoes. We came back to tomatoes and they worked so well, in the same area that he had failed. It’s almost like Jesus asking Peter to cast the net in the same area he had not caught fish.” He was hooked!
Russell Ochieng is an extension educator for Care of Creation Kenya (CCK), a non-profit in the Rift Valley with the mission of pursuing a God-centered approach to farming so that all people and creation can flourish. Russell started his career in agriculture working for a large commercial operation in Tanzania. While on leave at home in Kenya, he was invited to attend a weeklong workshop with CCK:
“When I came for the training, the first two and half days we were just doing Bible. I was wondering, ‘Am I in a theological school, or am I in an agricultural club?’ I thought I was coming to learn some skills of farming. When we went to the farming part of it, most of the stuff I knew. But the names were different, like ‘God’s blanket,’ which is just mulch. I was used to high mechanization, high input improvements, but this was just basic. It was then that I realized it’s not really about the technology and management, it’s about God.”
For farmers with few resources, the basic technique of Farming God’s Way has immediate material benefits—greater income, the ability to send children to school, etc.—but this is not the goal. As Russell works with farmers, and they begin to see their needs met through a caring relationship with the land, he has an opening to their hearts to engage them in Bible study and conversations about Creation Care:
“This farmer was not a church guy. His spiritual levels were very low. After he saw the successes in the farm and I was telling him this is how God farms, that got his interest. He was immediately asking me to pray for this land, to pray for us. His wife said he is asking to go to church together, and he is quitting all sorts of stuff like smoking.“
When we can de-center our own interests and tie our well-being to that of the earth, we see that people and the earth flourish together:
“Everything we do is a matter of the heart. It is like the farmer going into the farm just because he is hungry and a farmer who decides I am going glorify God in whatever I do. The one who is hungry, regardless of what God thinks of his farm, will do whatever he wants. He will plant trees for money even if they are not beneficial. If you ask him, are you caring for creation, he will say yes. But are those trees part of his heart’s desire to honor God? For me I would say let us do this to honor God. Rather than to simply do it because we have noticed a problem. I think we have followed those directions for so long and we are still seeing a lot of problems with the environment. If we honor and glorify God there are things we will do, and not do, from our heart, and it will make it much easier.”