Tag Archives: farming

Here am I, an environmental scientist. Send me!

Building homes and other structures with common materials in Malawi.
Building homes and other structures with common materials in Malawi.  By creatively recycling materials on hand, people divert trash from being burned and creating pollution.  This could be the work of an environmental missionary!

Environmental missionaries are those sent cross-culturally to labor with Christ-the Creator, Sustainer, and Redeemer of all creation-in caring for the environment and making disciples among all peoples.  ~pg. 17

Lowell Bliss, Environmental Missions: Planting Churches and Trees.  William Carey Library, 2013

In 2009 I was a college student attending my first Urbana Missions Conference, and the book “Environmental Missions” was a twinkle in Lowell’s eye.  I was not interested in overseas missions because I was studying wildlife ecology, and enjoying it very much.  I thought that I would need to be a medical professional or pastor in order to be a proper missionary.   I thought my wildlife ecology studies precluded me from missionary work.

However, the idea of environmental missions is exactly the opposite: we can care for God’s good earth and His very good creation: people…at the same time.  Join me as I reflect on a few quotes from Lowell Bliss’ book, Environmental Missions, and explore the possibility of expanding our current understanding of missionaries to include those who love God’s world.
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When I tend my garden, I remember Uganda

Kale growing from a sack garden in Kampala, Uganda.

Kale might be a “hipster” vegetable in the United States, but it’s as common as potatoes and rice in East Africa.  I’m glad I planted some in my garden: when I look out my kitchen window, I remember the leafy greens growing out of sack gardens in Kenya and Uganda.

I recently returned from a trip to East Africa, where I had the opportunity to connect with Kenyans in the small rural town of Kijabe and Ugandans in the sprawling slums of Kampala who are working to instill creation care practices in their respective communities.  Training women and men to grow staple foods with limited space and water while embodying the biblical wisdom of Psalm 24:1 (The earth is the LORD’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it”) is a cornerstone of both Care of Creation Kenya and A Rocha Uganda.  Both organizations teach “Farming God’s Way” and micro-gardening; both techniques allow people to grow more crops on less land and with fewer inputs such as water and inorganic fertilizers, all while contributing to the health of soils and souls.

Holes intentionally made in the side of the sack allow for multiple tiers of vegetables to grow in the same amount of space.  This lettuce is recovering well after an intense rainstorm, helped by the the fact that sack gardens encourage plants to put down deep roots.

Micro-gardening usually involves taking advantage of vertical space that is available on even the smallest of plots.   With a few common, locally available items and a couple hours of work, anyone can begin cultivating dozens of vegetable plants right next to their front door.  Food aid bags are reused as the container for the garden, and with some rocks, soil, compost or manure and seedlings, voila!  You have a sack garden.  The column of rocks in the center of the sack acts as an irrigation channel, encouraging the vegetables to put down deep roots as they follow the water.

For those of us living in a city, it’s hard to imagine having enough space to garden.  More and more of the global population resides in cities, and the percentage is expected to go up in coming years.  In Kampala, I noticed that many people make a living by selling excess produce.  However, fresh food is still hard to come by in some places, like schools.  A Rocha Uganda regularly partners with primary schools in Kampala to help them implement small, manageable gardening projects by teaching the kids how to build and take care of a sack garden.

In the United States, most of us would be too busy to handle anything but a “small, manageable gardening project” like a sack garden or a single raised bed.  We have the luxury of not growing a thing and still eating every day.  However, I appreciate the reminder of kale, lettuce, squash and spinach that grows in my backyard: my friends in East Africa are bringing the Good News and helping people meet their most basic needs through gardens.  I will savor and be thankful for everything I harvest, knowing that I am adding my voice to many across the world who thank God for their daily bread (or sukuma wiki, as the case may be).

In the coolness of the evening, I can picture God walking among the sack gardens in Kijabe, Kampala, my backyard raised bed, and the other little gardens of the world.

Insects: A Climate Change solution?

Too cute to eat?

One UW-Madison grad student was not just driven buggy by the climate change crisis, she was driven to bugs for a solution. My interview with Valerie Stull about her and Rachel Bergmann’s mighty MIGHTi project (Mission to Improve Global Health Through Insects)aired on WORT-FM March 17, 2015. Their unconventional idea brings a small solution – insects – to help with two big problems: hunger and climate change. As Stull explains, meal worms provide a highly efficient source of edible protein requiring 1/5th the feed per pound than beef. Additionally, meal worms produce none of the potent green house gas methane that beef cattle does.  Listen here (about 4 minutes).

By Mnolf (Photo taken in Rum, Tirol, Austria) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html), CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/) or CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Larvae of the meal worm beetle (Tenebrio molitor), before (dark) and after skinning (light)
How does raising meal worms and other insects equal a “win-win-win?” In their own words,

“Insects can feed people, serve as an inexpensive feed source for poultry as well as fish, and are relatively easy to raise. Farming insects is also climate smart, as they require less energy to produce and emit fewer greenhouse gases than other livestock. They can even recycle agricultural waste products, not edible for people. In areas where food is not always available and protein sources are scarce, insect farming offers an inexpensive, environmentally friendly option. (1)

What creative problem-solving!  UW Madison’s Climate Quest competition awarded Stull and Bergmann top prize for their project’s creative potential to impact climate change in 2015. It may even have more potential than those of us acculturated  in the industrialized west may give it credit for.

In case you’re still skeptical about eating bugs, remember that John the Baptist did just fine on a diet of locusts and honey (Mark 1:6 ; Matthew 3:4 ).  For more examples of insect eating (called “entomophagy”) throughout history, check out National Geographic’s “Bugs As Food: Humans Bite Back” and“For Most People, Eating Bugs is only Natural”.

(a version of this post by Kermit Hovey originally appeared at www.climatechangehope.wordpress.com )

What’s killing the frogs? And does it matter?

originally published January 24, 2010.

I had just finished giving a talk for Blackhawk Church‘s  adult fellowship group, and had included a short video from Discovery Channel’s Planet Earth in which one expert says, “I think we’re facing the loss of half the world’s frogs.’

On the way out, one of the participants asked me:  “So, exactly what is killing the frogs?”

It happens that I had just run across an article on this very topic two or three days ago.  Richard Black, BBC Environment Correspondent, was commenting on a world-wide precipitous decline in amphibians of all kinds (think frogs, salamanders, etc) in a post he called ‘The Attack of the Killer Everything“: Continue reading

On living on a finite planet

Originally posted January 6th, 2011.  


Do we live in a world of limitations or one of potentially inexhaustible resources?

Wayne Grudem, writing in Politics According to the Bible, makes this rather astounding statement in an attempt to persuade his reader that there’s really nothing to worry about with regard to the global environmental crisis:

“Long term trends show that human beings will be able to live on the earth enjoying ever-increasing prosperity, and never exhausting its resources.” (p. 332)

I’ll be doing an in-depth review of Grudem’s book in the near future – let’s just say for now that it’s kind of hard to believe that he and I are living on the same planet.  Case in point: two different news items over the last couple of days: Continue reading

“It’s Complicated”: An Update on the Monarch Butterfly

Two months ago I posted a story here on the fate of the Monarch butterfly which many of you read and shared. This week we have an update from the New York Times that is worth reviewing briefly. There is good news and bad news, and, for me, a new sense of how complicated these things are. Many of us who are trying to help may not have been helping as much as we thought.

So listen up – this is important for the butterflies, and for us. Continue reading