19 November 2020

The role of farming in caring for God's creation

Jesus was a great teacher and he had the ability to accommodate himself to the crowd’s ability to understand. He usually did this by teaching in parables. He had the ability to ensure people understood what he was saying by using the ordinary and familiar things which were around him. The parable of the sower speaks to us of ‘cultivating’. It tells of various kinds of soil, ways of sowing and bearing fruit and how they all relate to each other. Ever since the time of Genesis, God has quietly urged us to ‘cultivate and care for the earth’.

Creation is a gift from God and he invites us to cultivate it, to care for it, to protect it and to be its custodians. In the Presidential virtual visits I am making, I have been extremely grateful to those who have organised them, because on each occasion I have had the opportunity to meet with a group of farmers. We have shared many topics - the environment, Brexit, the Agricultural Bill, tenancy, mental health, loneliness, diversification and many more issues, but at each meeting the farmers have all spoken about being custodians of the land given to them.  For them the landscape is not just to make a living out of, it is so much more. For the landscape we see is the product of generations of skill and hard work. As one farmer said, “It was never a conscious decision to go into farming to produce a landscape. My desire and drive to have a business was to produce food, but the two things have become increasingly interwoven. We produce food and we’re producing this iconic landscape as well to the benefit of everyone—for me as a farmer and for the public at large.”

Farming has played a key role in shaping the countryside we all enjoy today. I live in rural East Yorkshire, among the beautiful rolling Wolds and spent 11 years living surrounded by the outstanding natural beauty of Cumbria. The agricultural community is to be thanked. Every sector, livestock, arable, horticulture, upland, lowland, organic, conventional and tenanted and every type of farm continues to carry out a huge amount of work to protect and enhance the landscape, encourage wildlife, benefit soil and water and reduce the impact on the climate. With agriculture occupying over 70% of the UK landmass, farm businesses play an irreplaceable role in looking after our cherished natural environment. Farmers are custodians of the countryside and are well practiced in the words of Minette Batters, the National Farmers Union President, “at balancing its needs while producing safe, affordable, traceable food.”

At a recent meeting with farmers in Lancashire I asked them what the joys in farming today were. Answers included taking enormous pride in the production of food. There is something joyous about being a custodian of a farm—it’s just ‘my turn’. Every farmer I talked to, said we don’t feel that we own the land, but look after it for society, wanting to hand it on to the next generation in a slightly better condition. Another said, “I am passionate about environmental stability. We are custodians of the land which is God’s creation.”

I share this article for a number of reasons. There is a disconnect in our society between rural and urban –the distance between field and fork is huge and we all need food. We need to educate more people about where our food comes from, how it is farmed, the high welfare standards which we have in this country for our animals. The National Farmers Union has set a welcome target that farming should reach net zero greenhouse gas emissions across England and Wales by 2040, ten years ahead of the government target. This is certainly achievable and more about that on another occasion.

Twentieth century Dutch theologian Abraham Kuyper said, “There is not a square inch of the entire creation over which Jesus Christ does not declare, ‘This is mine.’” In light of Christ’s special relationship with creation, we have a unique calling to care for creation and the farming community do so through being its custodians. Could I urge you to do something very simple as I asked the Methodist community in the Lancashire District to thank a farmer by word, email, letter or card, for the food they produce whether meat or arable and for the way they are custodians of the land we see and enjoy today. It would mean so much.

‘Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.’ (John 1 v3)

Oh, the life of the world is a joy and a treasure,

Unfolding in beauty the green-growing tree,

The changing of seasons in mountain and valley, the stars and the bright restless sea.

(Singing the Faith 114)

The Revd Richard Teal, President of the Methodist Conference, 2020 - 21.

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