Life in Community

Homegrown Down Under

July 2, 2020 by

It was on Christmas Eve that the “big dry” began to lose its grip on Danthonia, the Bruderhof community where I live. After two years of gruelling drought, dust storms, and bushfires, our prayers began to receive answers.

Starting with a light drizzle that barely settled the dust, precious water kept falling from the sky. Over Christmas Day – summertime in Australia – thundershowers turned our parched, cracked earth into sloppy mud.

Although less than two inches of rain actually soaked into our paddocks, huge fires to the east got drenched. Their oppressive smoke stopped coming our way, and we could open windows and suck clean fresh air into our homes. From that point on, January through June (and counting), every month has been above our yearly rainfall average – sometimes by more than double.

The power of life was waiting, poised under the dust and brown stubble. The water began its healing work within hours. Within days, the visual transformation was staggering. Local wooded areas, burned out by recent fires, were green again – where branches were missing, new leaves grew right from the charred trunks.

As COVID-19 arrived and began to infect Australia, our paddocks were growing lush for cattle; our hunters were bringing home venison. Our veggie gardens, apple and citrus orchards, honey bees, and over three hundred free-range chooks (laying hens) were all producing enough to feed us.

While global supply chains crashed and media outlets around the world showed photos of empty supermarket shelves, we harvested God’s earth, sharing food with neighbors.


The situation was quite thought-provoking and around that time, I pondered the Biblical story of Babel. That is the one where people invent a new technology (fired bricks) and decide to build a huge city with a tower that reaches up to heaven. Instead of “filling the earth” as God commanded, they organize into a metropolitan monoculture to “make a name for themselves” (Gen. 11:1–9).

God puts an abrupt stop to it all by confusing their common tongue and scattering them over the earth – the long-term result being that different peoples blanket the earth and develop unique languages, physical features, cultures, cuisines, and musical expressions.

I see similarities in the Zeitgeist and technologies of today that strive to globalize all culture, values, and finances. If consumerism is our vision and the dollar our yardstick, we might never question our utter dependence on international suppliers, or the third-world wage slaves that keep our prices down.

Enter COVID-19. Earth is infected, more than half a million have died, borders close; intercontinental giants like oil and air travel go into freefall; many countries realize that they are no longer capable of producing essential supplies locally. Meanwhile, pollution levels drop to record lows, parents take on the education of their own children, and all sorts of “impossible” things begin to happen. Is it possible God is redirecting civilization as he did so long ago in Babel?

This is a question for each of us to reflect on individually. The answer is not about what everybody else has done wrong. The question I am asking myself is, “what can I do differently in my own backyard to respond to this unprecedented world shake up?”

Personally, I feel thankful to live in an intentional Christian community. It allows me to be part of something bigger than myself, and to participate in a vision that I could never fulfil on my own. Our “village” of Danthonia, where 250 of us live here in the Australian bush, has the opportunity to live out answers to some of the needs that burden society. Not because we are clever or can think up great social policies, but because in all weakness and imperfection we strive to “seek first the kingdom of God” – and trust that all else will be provided (Matt 6:33).

For example, to the extent that God’s law of neighbor-love is alive in our hearts, there is no call for jails within our community. Jesus’ scales of justice do not measure an eye for an eye. They balance our acts of mercy to others with an equal dose of God’s mercy toward us. When we believe this and let it bear fruit, we find a path to forgiveness, healing, peace, and justice.

When each child is welcomed and wanted, there is no demand for abortion clinics. When we share life in the spirit of the early Christians, there are no class divisions of rich and poor. When families among us grow food, catch fish, or hunt as an educational and recreational activity around our community farm, we free ourselves from over-dependence on factory farmed foods, packaged in printed plastic and shipped from thousands of miles away.

At Danthonia, we harvest most of what we eat. This year we added a wheat crop so we can make our own (glyphosate-free) bread. Soon our new, five-hundred-tree olive grove will begin to provide healthy cooking oil.

Where does my question fit into all this? What am I trying to do differently in my own backyard? Most of my day I help to make handcrafted signs in our main communal business. However, on weekends my children and grandchildren have agreed to help me grow peanuts! I am not famous for my green thumb – so wish us luck! Our long-term goal is to provide Danthonia with peanuts and homemade peanut butter, to make us that much less reliant on those international supply chains, which until now have run this sandwich staple almost eight thousand miles to our door.

Perhaps by next year we can post a picture of homegrown peanut butter sandwiches.


About the author

Joe McKernan

Joe McKernan

Joe McKernan lives with his wife Nancy at Danthonia Bruderhof, in New South Wales, Australia.

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