“To grow nature is to encourage more of it.”1
This provocative phrase from Dan Barber’s work, The Third Plate: Field Notes on the Future of Food, immediately calls to mind a solidifying theory I have as a person who works with people, and in the garden: The growth of nature is deeply parallel to the growth of a person. To cultivate the land well requires most of the same characteristics in the sustainable development of healthy, mature people. To play on words, the aspects of nature are the same, whether we are speaking of growing cherry tomatoes, or an emerging leader.
Consider the following aspects of growth:
- Tending the environment of the soil for growth is key. If the soil is too alkaline, sandy, or compact, growth is stunted in a variety of ways. Careful tending to the soil itself – the environment in which nature grows – will result in a garden blossoming into life. The same can be said for the maturation of a human soul as it learns to flourish.
- The development of the root system under the surface, hidden from view, is the vast majority of growth. The unseen elements of one’s garden (Is the soil sufficiently drained? Is there space for adequate root growth? Are the plants receiving enough nutrients from the ground itself?) mirror the internal layers of development that must take place outside of the glare of the spotlight that a leader is hastily thrust into, often well prior to when he or she is ready. If the roots of a plant are being fed, under the surface, the plant will grow.
- Disparate elements outside of the locus of one’s control must be worked with, not fought against. Wind, rain, insects, and the like must be responded to, not struggled against with endless futility. During the summer growing season in Cape Town, where we lived through 2019, a gale force South Easterly wind is an ever present reality throughout the peak gardening months each year. Fierce wind whipping through one’s land is a feature of the land itself (The South Easterly winds cool the Cape Peninsula, preventing it from baking dry), not a bug that must be eliminated. Similarly, external forces that seem to inhibit a person’s growth must be opened up to as opportunities to cultivate new life, in particular through the embrace of suffering and patient perseverance. There simply is no other way to grow, than to grow through hardship.
- The fruit of harvest is a byproduct of a healthy ecosystem, not the purpose itself. It’s wild how suddenly, and abundantly, the harvest comes. After waiting endlessly, in an instant one morning, the tomatoes are ready – and then the beans, cucumbers, peas, squash, onions, and a few vegetables you forgot you even planted! As the cliché testifies, “a watched pot never boils.” It’s the same with a garden. As you focus on the end result, the process is stymied. Give attention to the cultivation of a healthy ecosystem, and your harvest will come, and come rapidly.
“The ultimate goal of good farming: ‘We need to grow nature,’ he said, and in doing so he revealed more than an insight. He was articulating an attitude, a worldview, and he might well have been speaking on behalf of all the farmers in this book. To grow nature is to encourage more of it. That’s not easy to do. More nature means less control. Less control requires a certain kind of faith, which is where the worldview comes into play. Do you see the natural world as needing modification and improvement, or do you see it as something to be observed and interpreted? Do you view humans as a small part of an unbelievably complicated and fragile system, or do you view us as the commanders? The farmers in this book are observers. They listen. They don’t exert control. It’s hard to label these farmers, because it’s hard to label an attitude, which was Lady Balfour’s point. When King Lear asks the blind Gloucester how he sees the world, Shakespeare has him say, ‘I see it feelingly.’ The farmers in this book see their worlds feelingly.”
(Dan Barber, The Third Plate, pp. 18-19)
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Chris Kamalski facilitates space for Missio’s Writing Collectives to thrive, shaping both words and ideas to help our writers find and use their unique voice within the global Church. Born and raised in the Bay Area, Chris has lived in South Africa since 2009, happily married to Maxie, an Afrikaans South African. Together, they are committed to the restoration and development of all Africans in a just manner. Presently, they are rooting deeply in Jeffreys Bay with their two girls, Mia and Clara, and their Scottish terrier, Wally.
Chris’s work and calling lies at the intersection of the holistic spiritual formation and leadership development of Christian leaders, particularly under-resourced leaders from the global south. As a Gallup certified strengths coach, spiritual director, and habitual developer of resources, the ideation and creation of initiatives that mature a leader’s formation is a thrilling part of his work. Formational theological education remains a significant area of interest for Chris, who just completed a Doctor of Ministry in Leadership & Spiritual Formation from Portland Seminary.
1 Dan Barber, The Third Plate: Field Notes on the Future of Food. New York: Penguin Books (2014), 18-19.