Since birth all my life and industry have been immersed in dairy farming. The word “livestock” is directly correlated to my family’s lifestyle, and therefore mine also. Dairy farming and agriculture in general are probably two of the things about which I am most passionate. They are not simply my parents’ profession – they are a way of life for my family, extended family and community. We have always understood farming to be an incredible responsibility, that of stewarding the parts of creation with which God has blessed us. Land, animals, plants – all are things created by God that man was called to rule over and subdue, as in Genesis 1:28.
But we have also always seen this as a great privilege. We would watch a mother quickly get to work, licking and cleaning her newborn as soon as seconds after giving birth, sometimes even going so far as to eat the placenta, all natural instincts to save and protect her new calf. We would plant a field with corn, knowing the ways it was designed to require proper water and care makes it all the more rewarding and humbling to watch it slowly transform from a small tic-tac sized seed to a plant over 12 feet tall.
My father could create faith lessons about the “Good Lord” from practically anywhere on our dairy farm. I remember one time: as a young girl I was feeding a newborn calf named Sweetie. She wasn’t just any calf either, she was mine, actually a daughter of one of my favorite show cows. As I was feeding her she abruptly jerked, and coughed milk everywhere. Her body seized and she fell over convulsing. I ran to my father and yelled for him to save her. He and my entire family came running to her pen, but despite our valiant effort, we were slowly losing Sweetie. My father hates to see things die, especially animals in his care. He frantically tried giving her medication, pounding her chest and even attempted mouth to mouth. Within minutes a calf I could call my own was gone. I was devastated.
My mother and my father tried to console me, but they were also mindful of the opportunity to explain that death is just a part of life, especially life on a farm. I was still bitter, and to be honest, somewhat mad at God for taking what I thought was rightfully mine. That Sunday was communion, and when it came time to quiet our hearts and reflect, I’ll never forget my Dad rounding up my brothers and I and explaining that God had let His son be given over to death, for the sake of knowing us all. He then paralleled that this would be like our Dad giving up my brother Trevor, letting him die for everyone else in our world. I quickly thought of Sweetie and what it was like to watch her die in agony, and how angry I was at God for taking her from me. Suddenly that loss paled in comparison to the thought of my Dad watching Trevor die, or worse yet, God watching Jesus die. Death felt very real all of sudden and the weight of His sacrifice more fully understood.
Not only do I remember feeling God’s handiwork on display, but I also remember incredible responsibility and pride in caring for God’s creation. We have multiplied and see fruit, but we also care for and protect in order to better preserve what has been entrusted to us for future generations. This is a fine line to walk though, and honestly one of the biggest questions facing our industry. What to do when things are done for the sake of bearing more fruit (and profits) at the cost of stewardship?
As Christians in my industry, I think this is a more pressing issue still. As Genesis 1 points out, we were given every seed-bearing plant for food and told to rule over all the creatures of the sea, air and earth. But I think it was given with the expectation, or command, that we would add to, not take away. That we would bring about the kingdom in the way God intended. Taking advantage of this incredible gift for our own gain does not honor the God who entrusted it to us. But where is that line drawn? That’s the more difficult question. Are pesticides causing more long-term damage than immediate reward? Growing corn, or even weeding our flower beds, would be practically impossible without them. Pesticides have truly been one of the greatest advances in modern agriculture. Feeding the world would become almost impossible without them. So if we are to use them, how do we do so in a way that will create less of a negative impact? This is just one area of farming to be explored and questioned; there are dozens more.
For all this, I now have to ask a different question. I am no longer on my parent’s farm, and although I know agriculture will always be a part of my life considering how much I enjoy it, I am currently walking a new vocational path. I live in the Washington, DC area, and I am making my way working for a public relations firm in Alexandria, VA, worlds away from the rolling hills and grazing cattle I am used to. This brings its own, and very different, reflection to this same verses. Connecting the dots here is a little more complex and unfamiliar. I sit at a desk all day feeling completely disconnected from nature and most parts of God’s creation. Applying Genesis 1:28 to this work takes a little more imagination, but it is relevant and applicable nonetheless. Now, God has put me in a situation to bring order to chaos, just as we did on the dairy farm, but order into a different wild.
Nicole Holdridge grew up on a dairy farm in upstate New York and now works in public relations in the Washington, DC area. She is a member of the 2016-2017 class of the Falls Church Fellows Program.