Life in Community

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Life in Community

Agriculture in an Era of Climate Change

May 23, 2019 by

Today, I’m featuring a portion of an interview my husband, Chris, held with Danthonia’s main land manager, Johannes Meier. Hopefully this introduction piques your interest to read the entire interview. It’s a comprehensive overview of what we’ve learned about regenerative agriculture and the steps we’ve taken to help our land heal – and why caring for the land is something the Bruderhof sees as a crucial aspect of living in intentional community.

Johannes: My family arrived at the Danthonia Bruderhof in November 2004. By then the effects of what would become known as Australia’s Millennium Drought were already painfully obvious. Drought became even more severe, persisting until autumn 2010. The drought caused us to think hard about the way we cared for our landscape. I’d come from England, where rain is often more of a bother than a blessing. So it was extremely strange to find myself constantly looking to the west and watching the clouds every day, month after month, year after year, waiting for the gift of rain. When occasional rain did fall, the land hardly responded – it was in such poor condition.

Danthonia Bruderhof in droughtDanthonia Bruderhof in 2000

In 2007, we watched our creek dry up. It’s a beautiful little creek, lined with willows, running through a wide floodplain at the base of Swan Peak, Danthonia’s prominent landmark. I will never forget seeing the drying, algae-glutted pools, with dead fish – golden perch, eel-tailed catfish, and Murray cod, some up to thirty inches long – lying belly-up; the eroded, crumbling banks; no flow whatsoever. In 2009, it happened again, only with no dead fish. They were all gone. I remember thinking, “This isn’t right. What are we doing here?”

So the crucible of drought turned us to an arduous process of discovery: how to bring our landscape back from the brink and restore it to life and health.

members of Danthonia Bruderhof planting treesTree planting at Danthonia

But as most of us were transplants to a new country, we all had to learn how to love this land in specific and care for it in general: to plant trees, build contours to hold the water, and initiate carbon sequestration. Our children were an active part of this regeneration, and helped to propagate, plant and care for the thousands of trees which are now thriving on the property. Johannes continues:

In Australia, there’s a tradition of beginning public gatherings with a “Welcome to Country”: an indigenous person acknowledges the “traditional custodians” of the land on which the gathering takes place and pays respect to elders past and present. This concept of custodianship – of being caretakers of a landscape, so as to pass it on to future generations in better shape than we inherited it – is one we have tried to embrace.

Caring for the land is simply a reflection of our desire to be true to Christ who loves the flowers of the field, sparrows, children; who takes pity on the sick and needy; whose heart is with the destitute and downtrodden.

The truth is, what we’re doing at Danthonia to care for the land is not such a big deal. As thrilled as I am with the steps we’re taking and the way nature is responding, it is only one small part of why we live in community. Our calling is to live a life of discipleship of Christ, and to follow his path as best we are able. Caring for this land is simply a reflection of our desire to be true to Christ who loves the flowers of the field, sparrows, children; who takes pity on the sick and needy; whose heart is with the destitute and downtrodden. This impels our efforts toward fellowship with and understanding of those around us, and particularly with our Aboriginal brothers and sisters. Charles Massy, whose book Call of the Reed Warbler is an absolute must-read for anyone considering regenerative agriculture, says it well: “Not until we attain reconciliation with both the land’s first peoples and the land itself, will we be enabled to ‘arrive’ and truly belong on this continent.”

a pond in Danthonia Bruderhof in NSW Australia, since regenerative agriculture has restored the soil and landscapeDanthonia in 2015

Regenerative agriculture is ultimately about getting back to the task that God gave Adam and Eve in Genesis 2: to care for the earth that God created as his garden. We have to start humbly, recognizing that we Western consumers are complicit in the global ecological disaster that industrial agriculture has created. Greed and demand drive the markets – and separate us from the way God intended us to live. Agriculture has a lot to answer for, but I truly believe that agriculture has tremendous potential to regenerate our world.

Those of us who farm need empathy for the land and animals; for our neighbor next door; for those starving a world away; for future generations; for everything God created. Our hearts must work as hard as our heads and our hands.

Recently I was reminded of words by the prophet Jeremiah, who lived in desperate times. “This is what the Lord says: ‘Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls’” (Jer. 6:16).

All that’s required of us is to recognize the crossroads, ask to see the ancient and good way, and then step in that direction.

the paddocks of Danthonia BruderhofDanthonia’s paddocks in 2017

Follow Norann on Twitter at @NorannV.


About the author

Norann Voll portrait

Norann Voll

Norann Voll lived in New York’s Hudson Valley until moving to the Danthonia Bruderhof in New South Wales, Australia in 2002...

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  • What constrasting photos! As I started to read, and saw the denuded landscape and brown fields, I was hoping to see the opposite, as I read down the blog. And there, sure enough, were green pastures and promising yields. Yes, right from the Garden of Eden, we humans have been commissioned to care for the land and it's creatures (including each other)! Thankyou again, for the message of hope, inherent in your blog.

    Heather Kerridge