Big Lessons from a Little Farm

By Nigel Pollock


“This reminds me of The Biggest Little Farm,” said a colleague recently. I was intrigued and, later that evening, Ailsa and I watched the film on Netflix. It was easy to see why my colleague had referenced it.


This beautifully filmed documentary chronicles a seven-year journey of a group of people who have a vision to develop a diverse, organic farm on a run-down apricot operation in California. Years of modern monoculture practices had exhausted the soil. The new, inexperienced farmers aim to restore the land to a diverse, interconnected and flourishing ecosystem but they have no idea how to do it.


Clearing the ground


Secularism, relativism and consumerism have leached the soil of Western society resulting in less receptive ground for the gospel. As churches and mission agencies, we need to recognize how some of our own strategies and ideas may have inadvertently contributed to this demise.


The farmers believe a natural ecosystem will produce the highest possible level of biodiversity. A first objective is to get rid of things that never should have been planted in the first place. In New Zealand, I observed a similar focus on regenerating the native flora and fauna to correct problems resulting by imported wildlife and plants. The same observation can be made missiologically: importing ideas and resources from offshore doesn’t help develop ministry that connects with the particular culture of a place.


We want to value, build and develop a diverse culture for InterVarsity that is rooted in Canada. This means there are things we need to move away from as we seek to move forward. In this COVID season, we pray our experiences will accelerate cultural change. We will need innovation, imagination and courage.


Diversity leads to simplicity


The farmers believe diversity leads to simplicity and that when inter-connections work best, different crops and elements drive and sustain growth. InterVarsity was founded an idea of inter-connectedness. Howard Guinness began camp for high school students so university students could learn to lead, share their faith and disciple younger Christians.


Many things have changed over the last 90 years but we firmly believe we are to be inter-connected. The journey to adulthood is taking longer – extending from early teens to late twenties. We are committed to walking with young people from their first childhood experience at camp, into high school, college and university and the beginning of their work lives. We are keen to support and mentor them through key life transitions. Camp, campus and workplace ministries are incubators where young people develop healthier, more resilient faith.


InterVarsity does not run separate ministries; we have one inter-connected ministry with five aims for young people:

  • Discover Jesus
  • Live an undivided life
  • Engage ideas
  • Act globally
  • Grow in influence

The Gospel is not in Quarantine


The farmers endure disappointments and frustrations caused by storms, pests and predators and by initiatives with unintended consequences. With every new problem, they take a step back and watch. Observation followed by creativity becomes their greatest ally. They are sustained by their belief and seeing their dream realized.


Things are always changing. Generational evolution, apologetics issues, the impact of technology and an evolving landscape of ethics and sexuality create new challenges. Ours is a spiritual battle. We are fallen people who get things wrong, leading to suffering, discouragement and frustration.


Taking time to observe and to respond creatively is part of our calling. Paul tells Timothy to preach the word in season and out of season. Currently, this feels like an out-of-season time. Many of our staff and students are frustrated by lost opportunity and limitations. Even so, we believe there are opportunities. As IFES colleagues note, the gospel is not in quarantine.


“We are looking for larger ideas to be afraid of again,” says the film’s narrator. I don’t know of a larger idea than the gospel. While change is always scary, we know God has and will overcome. The one who calls us will equip us, so we can move forward in faith.


We are not alone


At the beginning of the film, the farmers say everyone told them their idea was crazy. Still, they find investors who see this old way of farming as the future. At the end of the movie, the farmers say they never felt alone. Others were with them all the way.


I have deep respect for farmers. They plan for the seasons, work hard through the elements and after the harvest start all over again. As the Apostle Paul reminds us:


“So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. The one who plants and the one who waters have one purpose, and they will each be rewarded according to their own labor. For we are co-workers in God’s service; you are God’s field.” (1 Corinthians 3 v 7-9)


In the film, one of the farmers says, “I’m not sure when you feel you have earned the title farmer.” The same is true for labourers in God’s fields. Bearing fruit doesn’t happen quickly or easily. I am encouraged that we have a team of people who believe in the dream and by investors who believe this old way of farming is the future.


Thank you for your participation in our little farm, which is part of God’s big farm. Do please continue to pray for the harvest and if you get a chance, catch the movie. I recommend it. To hear more about how God has been at work at InterVarsity this year, check out our 2020 Annual Ministry Snapshot.


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