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Ash Wednesday - "Fertilizer"

Photo by Greta Hoffman on Pexels

Karen Hollis

February 14/24

Ash Wednesday



May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be reflections of your word to us this morning, in Christ Jesus we pray, Amen.


A few years ago I watched a documentary on Netflix called The Biggest Little Farm. The show chronicles a young couple in their first 7 years of farming using what they call traditional farming practices. They wanted to farm in harmony with nature. They bought 200 acres of land just north of Los Angeles that had been stripped bare from previous farming methods. The land was hard with deep cracks, bone dry and dusty.

Their mentor helped them rip out many of the old trees and non-native species, lots of weeds, and convinced them to build a state-of-the-art worm composting facility to feed the soil. Then they brought in a huge diversity of plants and animals, because biodiversity mimics nature. They weren’t sure about planting cover crops all over the farm - they worried they needed to hire more people to mow it all, but they learned that the cover was food for the animals. The sheep would graze the cover crops in different parts of the farm, trampling it down and leaving their droppings behind to fertilize the soil. The cover crops brought pests and rodents, but simultaneously the improving soil health was creating habitat for predators, from ladybugs eating aphids, to hawks and owls and snakes eating the rodents.

The farm seemed overly complicated at first, with so many varieties of things to keep up with, but they had put the fly wheel in motion, the self-perpetuating circle full of life: all the plants, wildlife, livestock, compost and humans were working together, pushing forward, building the health of the once dead and hard soil. It took time and patience . . . and faith in the wisdom of nature, but the farm began to find balance.

As life cycled through the seasons on the farm, the couple noticed a 5th season they called Wind. But the first time I watched the documentary, I was just sure they said Lent. Each year extreme weather comes to the land, already stressed in places by drought. Winds whip through, exposing the fragility of life, and huge rainstorms dumped water on the parched land.

The windy season, which corresponds with our season of Lent, is the season in which they cannot hide; they are exposed to the unpredictability of life, that which they cannot control, and the power of nature. It is the season that strips them down and exposes truth about who they are, about what they have become. There is death in the harshness of the storm, but that death is a part of life.

The young farmers found that in the season of wind and rain, while neighbouring farms had rivers of water washing soil into the sea, their farm, built in harmony with nature was able to absorb all of that water and store the excess in the aquifer, largely from the help of those cover crops. So even while being stripped down, there was a wisdom in nature’s design that collected resources for the future.

Year after year the cycle continued, a process billions of years old re-awakened, and microorganisms returned to the soil. Microorganisms are purpose driven organisms alchemizing death to life. Everything that dies gets broken down into minerals and nutrients to feed plants. The farm is energized entirely by the impermanence of life . . . it’s a microcosm of the earth’s larger ecosystem, which turns through the seasons, bringing all of life with it through the continual transformation of death into life. From dust into life.

Our creator made the whole world out of dust that was formed in the belly of a star. Just imagine what God can do with us . . . just imagine what might live because we lived. Thanks be to God.

~ Written with the help of “The Biggest Little Farm,” viewed on Netflix.