Christian agriculture contains Christian agents' approach to and involvement in the practice of cultivating food. From the past to the present Christian farming summons how Christian doctrines, ideologies and beliefs influence, guide and affect the manner in which human interactions with land, soil, and plants are manifested. It highlights the historical interplay between Christian relationship to land and nature as well as more contemporary movements where diverse sets of biblical readings, theological interpretations and Christian ethics today are manifested in Christian approaches to food production.
Christian Stewardship: dominion and responsibility
Agriculture and Christianity are two important features that influenced the development of societies in Europe, the Americas and beyond. With the bible situated in an agricultural context, the biblical narratives have produced interpretations and positions that guided Christians claim, care and use of land. One of the most prominent biblical themes in relation to the use of natural resources and land has been Stewardship (theology)|stewardship, which on a general and basic level implies responsible management of resources. Alongside Christian ethics of eco-justice and creation spirituality, stewardship ethics draw on the creation narrative in Genesis creation narrative|Genesis, where the role of humans as the high-ranking servants, the stewards, are given authority over God’s creation (Gen 1:27-28, Gen 2:15). The notion of Christian stewardship have not been univocal, but includes power and authority as well as humility and responsibility, features that influenced different interpretations. Among Protestant denominations in North America, stewardship has often implied responsibility for financial resources that include tithing, and maintaining congregational and mission work, while other Christians have seen stewardship in relation to natural resources and increasingly today, Environmental issues|environmental concerns.
The latter contains two basic features: (1) stewardship as dominion over nature; and (2) stewardship as responsibility for earth keeping and protecting God’s creation. While both positions draw on a Christian Anthropocentrism|anthropocentric worldview dominion stewardship centers on that interaction with nature should primarily enhance human life. In the context of modern industrialization, this has implied promoting human control as the exploitation of natural resources in the service of humanity. This legitimization of human's use and exploitation of natural resources has lead to critique against Christianity’s role in shaping an growing ecological crisis. In contrast, alternative Christian stewardship positions have interpreting human’s elevated role as answerable to care for God's creation in a ecologically sustainable way, which today implies to also reverse humanity’s negative impact on the world’s Ecosystem|ecosystems. It makes stewardship a vocation engaged in the well-being of the material world, that sees environmental responsibility as part of a work towards social justice, human-nature relations and peace more broadly.
Monastic gardens and agriculture
While monastic rules tell little about how monks and nuns were to support themselves, it is likely that in the deserts of Egypt, on the islands of Greece and of the coast of Ireland, the first Christian monasticism|Christian monks and hermits depended on forms of gardening, gathering and fishing. Since the mid-sixth century and onward, Christian monasteries in Europe and the Middle East also developed agricultural practices to remain self-contained and avoid contact with the outer world. Through the Middle Ages|middle ages, the land monastic communities monitored however followed the tides of the rest of Feudalism|feudal Europe. This implied that monastic orders took on management roles and cultivated land through the use of labor tenants. It was not until the monastic reform movements in the 11th century when Monastic orders such as the Cistercians advocated a return to a more simple way of living. That monks and nuns returned to work the land themselves rather than serve as overseers lead to the development new forms of monastic farming emerged in the 12th Century. These changes were primarily born to keep Benedictines|Benedictine, Cistercian, Franciscans|Franciscan and later Jesuit monks from being contaminated by worldly matters and political scheme but made monasteries into hubs where agriculture and gardening practices thrived. Under Bernard of Clairvaux|St Bernard, St Francis and Alain de Lille|Alan of Lille, monastic communities return to agricultural manual labor served became interpreted as modes of turning wilderness (chaos) into paradise (order). These patterns influenced agricultural ideas and values not just in the western context but also came to be spread across the world when monastic orders spread through migration, mission and western imperial expansion.  The relationship between work, Christian lifestyles and agriculture was also prominent in when protestant pietistic movements’ struggled for religious freedom, autonomy and self-reliance in Europe during the 1600 and 1700s. With protestant groups leaving Europe for North America agriculture served as a prominent feature in the relocation of Christian groups on the new continent (e.g. Mennonites|Mennonite Christians).
Christian missions, colonialism and farming
In the western colonial expansions globally from the 1500s and onward, agriculture and the construction of gardens were central features when “new discovered” areas were seized under the control of new empires. Erecting enclosed gardens served to domesticate lands and construct “the wilderness” of the new world as unpossessed land that were open for conquest. Agricultural practices role in transforming “the wild” into habitable places were prevalent in (western) Christian traditions and followed Christian missionaries. Alongside education and medicine, agriculture helped spread western power and influence through Christian missions.
In African contexts, western missionaries often saw Christian evangelization as connected to economic development and new ways of social organization; as expressed by missionary David Livingstone when stating that the aim of missionary societies in Africa was the spread of the three Cs; “Christianity, Commerce and Civilization.” From the 1800s onward, Christian missions across Africa did not just preach the gospel but were heavily engaged in promoting new ways of living through education and medical work. The rationale behind this approach was believe in that by teaching Africans practical, technological and commercial skills, African societies could develop into more self-sufficient and “civilized” entities. This would also practically facilitate settings where a full Christian life-style could be accomplished. Connected to these ideas, the promotion of industrial missions generated in a wide range of training seminars and educating as a means of generate progress and an African industrialization. Examples like the Zambezi Industrial Mission in present day Malawi, the Basel Mission in Ghana and protestant missions in Nigeria merged Christian teachings with education in agriculture, while promoting large-scale production of new Cash crop|cash crops such as cocoa, coffee and tea. The way new agricultural practices and technological innovations introduced by Christian missionaries were received differed locally across Africa and ranged between accommodation and rejection. In the context of South Africa, African chiefs often valued these new skills and technical tools. This generated local variations of adaptation to new means of production that came to alter traditional farming practices and social relations of producing food. New innovations such as the introduction of the plough, for instance created economic incentives that drew men into agricultural domains that previously had been connected to subsistence farming and the responsibility of women. In different ways and to different degrees, variations of the “gospel of the plough” came to shape new forms of relationally in which both traditional economies of labor as well as humans’ relationship to nature, land and water was altered.
Even though Christian missions’ work over the last century has changed dramatically in outlook (both in terms of who that engage and what Christian mission imply), the message of the gospel remains an important feature for Christian missions across the globe, especially through commitment to development work that enhance people’s livelihood. In the wider context of an emerging ecological crisis and climate change, food security, environmental care, sustainable living and farming has remained important features in how Christian communities and churches work with questions of poverty, development and social justice. This “greening” of Christianity has produced renewed focus on Christian practical engagement with nature, soil and land, and so also with the work of cultivating food.
Contemporary Christian approaches to farming
Much contemporary Christian farming is a response to emerging debates over sustainable living and humans’ role in the emerging ecological crisis. Present-day modes of Christian farming is situated in a wider context of faith based development work, religious agrarianism and environmental ethics and so addresses humans’ use of land and natural resources following modernity, industrialization and the agricultural Green Revolution|green revolution since the 1950s. It relates to debates whiter or not we now have entered a new geological era, the Anthropocene.
The (re)emergence of farming as a Christian practice in the 2000s is situated in and reflected by three broad, yet interconnected, trajectories in the late 20th and early 21st Century. The first reflects a general “greening” trend within Christianity globally where questions about Christians’ responsibility for addressing environmental concerns are increasingly becoming part of Christian theological and ethical discourses. Primary examples are Pope Francis encyclopedia letter Laudato si'|Laudatio Si from 2015, which builds on the model of Francis of Assisi|St Francis of Assisi and the environmental teachings of Pope John Paul II|John Paul II, the work of the World Council of Churches, and a range of faith-based development organs and organizations within Catholic Church|Roman-Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant traditions. Part of the greening of Christianity is also a wider body of eco-theological and Ecofeminism|ecofeminist scholarly work that address Christian past, present and future relationships to nature.
The second strand is reflected in religious agrarianism. Within Christianity, this has primarily been promoted by a group of North American lay Christian farmers, Christian theologian and agrarian thinkers such as Wendell Berry, Wes Jackson, Thomas Berry and D.J. Hall.  Since the 1970s such individuals have been part of shaping a new Christian ethics of farming, which translated into practical engagements, should regenerate rather than degenerate the environment and God’s creation. Religious agrarian thinkers unite in their critique of the industrial, mechanized and reductive agriculture of the green revolution and its impact on rural farming communities in locally as well as globally. It opposes industrial farms use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides. Instead, Organic farming|organic, hand driven farming is stressed in light of social justice, health and relation to place in Holism|holistic terms. Such approaches have influenced North American Christian farmers such as Joel Salatin at the Polyface farms, the Roman-Catholic Sister Miriam Macgillis at the Genesis farm, and born-again homesteader Noah Sanders at Rora Valley farms. United in an agrarian ethics of sustainability this translates into biodynamic, organic and communal shared features of cultivating food that include Christian applications of permaculture and agricultural designs. It also features communitarian living, communal teaching and work, and trends connected to new monasticism, that place religious values in conversation with wider secular environmental ethics.
The third strand of contemporary Christian farming frames environmental concerns in relation to agricultural development, questions of food security and poverty. Even though this overlaps with religious agrarianism, it is primarily present in the global south. One major example goes under the name of “Farming God’s Way” which today is present through a wide variety of networks and Christian communities in over 20 countries in Africa as well as in Mexico, Bangladesh, Cambodia and US. Farming God’s Way is considered one of the most extensive “theologically-shaped farming narrative” globally and have been part of the work of the Alliance of Religions and Conservation funded by Prince Phillip (closed since 2019). Farming God’s Way combines biblical readings with agricultural techniques also known as conservation agriculture, in which methods of not disturbing the soil (no-tilling), Crop rotation|crop-rotation and the application of mulch cover are promoted as ways of mitigating Global warming|climate change and environmental stress on depleted soils while at the same time increase productivity.
Faith-based farming methods such as Farming God’s Way have received critique from researchers within agrarian development for not considering local and contextual circumstances, but instead presenting it as a one size fits all model based on divine principles. The presence of Christian actors in creating sustainable farming models have also been analyzed from a value-based approach that open up for see also the positive impact of faith on agricultural development.
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