Many more Seventh-day Adventists should get involved in some form of gardening or farming, said John and Pam Dysinger in an open forum at the Adventist Laymen's Services and Industries (ASi) International Convention on August 2, 2019. Why? The Dysingers, organic vegetable and berry farmers from Tennessee, United States, spent part of their back-and-forth discussion at the Kentucky International Convention in Louisville, Kentucky, United States, inviting participants to answer this and other questions.
A Faith-Building Enterprise
Working the soil is a faith-building and character-building exercise, John Dysinger said. It is not an easy job, he conceded, as he shared some of the logistical and economic challenges they have faced as farmers along the years. But it is not the only reason, he added.
Several participants — with our without extensive farming experience — contributed with their own reasons.
“There are spiritual lessons when you are planting a garden,” one of them said. “You do not need to research too much; you learn about God when working the soil.”
The Dysingers agreed as they reminded their audience that according to the Bible, the first classroom was at the Garden of Eden.
“Some years back, we were struggling on the farm. We asked, ‘God, why can’t things be easier? ¿Why is this so hard?’” John shared. “A lightbulb then went on in my mind,” he added. “I sensed God telling me, ‘I created you to be in a Garden, so there’s someone who wants to keep you out of it.’”
It is part of our spiritual warfare, John said.
Another participant focused on the character-building features of the activity.
“When you have a garden, if you are gardening fruit trees, it takes time, which builds patience” he said. “At the same time, it provides us with a place to help ourselves and be a blessing to others.”
The Dysingers acknowledged that in the last few years, there has been an increasing offer of non-GMO (Genetically Modified Organism) products, something that, according to them, is very good. “At the same time though, we often don’t realize that many of our legumes and grains, even when they are non-GMO, are sprayed with herbicides to kill the crop pre-harvest,” John explained.
A listener agreed. “Whey you spray small plants, you are affecting the whole plant,” he reminded.
“There is a huge problem today with processed foods,” another participant added. “If we grow our own food, our children will have a better appreciation for healthier foods.”
In the audience was Adventist Church vice-president Geoffrey Mbwana, who at one point commented on the therapeutic value of the activity. “I come from the office with a headache, but when I spend a little time gardening, I find it very refreshing,” he said.
“It’s true,” John seconded. “There are many challenges when working for the Lord, but you go to the garden, and there you can relax and commune with God.” Quoting author Richard Louv and his best-selling book “Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature Deficit Disorder,” John reminded that children are negatively affected by the lack of contact with nature.
Pam Dysinger agreed.
“A century ago, around 70 percent of people had a connection with a farm; now it’s just 1 percent,” she said. “Fresh air, sunlight, exercise… those things are important, and we have personally experienced those benefits.”
Part of Children’s Education
The Dysingers shared that they were not born farmers. In fact, as a young couple, they spent six years in Kenya, where John was a missionary teacher. In 1994, they returned to the United States, and in 1997, John left teaching as the couple felt “the Lord was leading them to farming.” Now, five children and 21 years later, they say they had no idea of the ministry they could have through farming.
“We did it for our family and spiritual development, but the Lord had greater plans,” John acknowledged. “I am not saying farming is the only way of creating family bonding, but it's a great way.”
Pam agreed. “I wouldn’t trade my life for anything; we’ve been through difficult times, but our goal in this life is to get to know the Lord, and sometimes we do it through difficulties,” she said.
In that sense, John said he believes that agriculture should be a crucial element in children’s education.
“Would you send your kids to a school that does not teach even its ABCs?” he asked. “There’s more to education than agriculture, but agriculture is foundational to education. I think the farm is a great school.”
John reminded that for many centuries, people have learned about God’s love from nature. He quoted Adventist Church co-founder Ellen G. White, who in Testimonies for the Church wrote, “The most exalted spiritual truths may be brought home to the heart by the things of nature” (vol. 4, p. 579).
Why There Are No More Adventist Farmers
“What’s keeping Adventists from getting involved in agriculture?” John and Pam asked their audience. It is sad, Pam added, that [Adventists] are not the head but the tail in this matter. “When we started [to work on our farm], there were five or six small farms serving the Nashville area; today there are dozens around us, and yet we are still the only Seventh-day Adventists in our area.”
The reasons are varied, participants said. “Part of the reason is that we are not reading White’s writings on the topic,” someone said.
“[Adventists] are practical; we want our children to be nurses, accountants, and to go work right away,” another one commented.
“Most people are too busy to slow down and take the time to have a farm,” a third one said.
The Dysingers reminded that in the past, many Adventist farmers encouraged their children to leave the farm to go to school. There were good reasons for that, they conceded.
“In our case, we started from scratch,” they said. “Building sheds, greenhouses, irrigation systems… It can be exhausting!”
But the benefits outweigh the challenges, they said. Now they are a driving force behind the Adventist Agricultural Association (AdAgrA), which in the last five years has organized an annual conference to promote and share agrarian knowledge. As the rationale for the event, they quote White once more, who in her book Ministry of Healing wrote, “In God’s plan for Israel, every family had a home on the land, with sufficient ground for tilling…. No devising of men has ever improved upon that plan” (p. 183).
But what about resorting to farming as a way of getting ready for troubled times ahead? Based on their understanding of Bible prophecy, Adventists believe a time will come when it will become impossible even “to buy or sell.”
John believes this is a “low motivational reason,” as it can be often driven by fear. “But whatever level of motivation there is, we’ll have a hard time if we lack our own food source,” he conceded.
A Witnessing Opportunity
At the same time, Pam said that whether it’s a home garden or more, working the soil can present many evangelistic opportunities, as they connect with other farmers.
“In our case, I really believe God put us there to build friendships for eternity,” she said. “A garden is a golden opportunity to connect with neighbors.”
It is not a minor consideration, Pam emphasized.
“One of the most important reasons we should be gardening is because it gives us inroads for witnessing,” she said.