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FIRST-PERSON: Stewardship of land

DYERSBURG, Tenn. (BP) — As a farmer I regularly think about the land and resources that God has granted me to care for. From an agriculture standpoint, the United States is blessed with soils that are rich and deep, along with strong water resources. In addition, diversification and technological advances continue to make our jobs easier. I believe that most farmers desire to be good stewards of their land. They strive to leave the land and resources to the next generation in even better condition than when they assumed care of it.

There are well over 50 passages of Scripture that deal with various forms of stewardship. Some deal with stewardship of land (a significant theme in the Old Testament) and resources, others deal with money. Many will be familiar with passages from Genesis 1 and 2, Psalm 24 and 50, and throughout most every genre of Scripture. In Luke 19, Jesus rewards the servants for the wise use of time and management while rebuking the waste of these resources.

With over 98 percent of the people in the U.S. depending on someone else for their food, we as producers have a vested interest in caring for our land and animals in a way that is ethical, sustainable and, yes, profitable. While I enjoy Levon Helm’s music, I do not necessarily want to be singing the “Poor Old Dirt Farmer” blues. Besides, “profit” need not be a bad word. In fact, treated with the right attitude, profitability leads to even greater generosity.

Two important components of this discussion are how the land is treated and what the land is used for. What makes one a good or bad steward of the land? Biblical stewardship at its foundational level is recognition that God owns everything, regardless of whose name is on the title or deed.

Joseph undoubtedly understood this. Adam and Eve, not so much, at least not at first. What about in our modern era? If I fertilize my fields with uranium that’s bad, right? No one really wants glow-in-the-dark corn. But what if I plant GMO seed? Isn’t one of the beasts referenced in Revelation 13 Monsanto? Am I a good steward if I grow organic edamame beans, gently watered with butterfly tears, and only sold to Chipotle? Who decides this?

First, the food I grow is the same food I eat. It is also the same food that my wife and children eat. I am confident in the safety of our nation’s food supply, regardless if the food is grown by more conventional methods as is done on our family farm or on smaller scales via locally grown networks, community gardens or certified organic farms. I desire all producers to be successful, because we all need to be so in order to continue feeding a growing global population. As Howard Buffet has well documented in his book “40 Chances,” many nations struggle with depleted soils, severe drought and tyrannical control so much so that many barely have enough food to eat once a day, much less the three-plus meals per day that most of us enjoy here.

Second, it would seem counterproductive for me to not be a good steward of the land. The land is what I derive my livelihood from. Why would I want to hurt it? I believe modern farming practices are safe and sustainable. No-tilling, crop rotation, cover crops, advanced hybrid selection, greater emphasis on reducing erosion, reducing pesticide and fertilizer use, reducing fuel use all lead to cleaner air and water and healthier soils. And we’re getting better at it every year while continuing to increase efficiency and productivity. I believe, despite a lot of negative press, agriculture in the U.S. overall is moving in the right direction, not in one that reminds us of a Hollywood scene in “The Hunger Games” from District 12 of Panem.

So therein lies the rub. Lines are drawn, sides are chosen, beans are counted and everyone begins throwing them at each other. Somewhere in this bean toss war, the bigger questions of sustainability and stewardship gets lost. It is an important discussion that many folks are having concerning how and where our food is produced, and one that needs to continue. But ultimately, I try to take a rational, realistic and common sense approach to how I manage the land in my care, and one that I do not believe is in conflict with Scripture. And I believe the overwhelming majority of producers do so as well.

It really is a luxury to have this kind of debate. While many people around the globe wonder where their next meal will come from, we can argue over choosing to shop at Whole Foods or Walmart. A lot of us have that choice. I and the other farmers in this land want to continue to strive to produce the best product possible so that consumers continue to have that choice. Simply put, stewardship is a way of living, or farming, that recognizes everything belongs to God and our resources are His resources to be used for His glory and the common good. And as long as I continue to operate within the framework of God’s created design, I’ll steward the ground over which God has entrusted to my care so that that choice will remain as long as people want it.
Shane Burchfiel works on a family farm in Dyer County, Tenn., where he raises cotton, corn, soybeans and wheat and manages a timber tract. He is a 2011 graduate of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

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  • Shane Burchfiel