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The Pilgrims in 1621: Agriculture

First Thanksgiving by Brownscombe

As the American holiday of Thanksgiving is celebrated we often will hear some bit of the story of the Pilgrims and their “First Thanksgiving.” Regrettably, their story is often boiled down to the basics and we lose some of its fullness. Here I want to flesh out a small part of the story concerning the Pilgrims’ work in agriculture.

In the spring of 1621 the Pilgrims and the Indian tribes planted and worked in the fields of agriculture. We can see that both the English and the native tribes had skills and abilities the other lacked. We read in William Bradford’s book Of Plymouth Plantation, “Afterwards they…began to plant their corn, in which service Squanto stood them in great stead, showing them both the manner how to set it, and after how to dress and tend it.” Squanto and the Indian tribes had great experience with the land that the English lacked. They had a history of learning from mistakes and finding what worked. They knew the right seeds to plant. Squanto taught the English to fertilize their corn with the fish that would spawn in the river nearby at just the right time. If they didn’t, the nutrients in the land would get used up.

Pilgrims with Samoset

Here we can recognize that God provided the Indians with fish that would spawn at just the right time to fertilize the land so they could eat and live. As Matthew 5:45 says, God “makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.” Here the Pilgrims reaped the benefits of working with the pagan tribes by learning the good things God had given them. This was a very providential blessing as their own seed did not do well, but thanks to this help they had enough food.  But despite God’s blessing on the native tribes, they were not exactly prosperous and thriving. The help was not all one sided, as we can see from an event that happened two months later.

It had been a little time since the English had seen Massasoit and so they sent two men along with Squanto to meet with him. This expedition had several objectives. First, to reaffirm peace with Massasoit and to keep a good relationship with him. Second, to exchange for seed for experimentation. The Pilgrims wanted to make sure that had a variety of things planted in case some failed. Third, to find out which tribe it was that they had taken corn from in the winter, so they could pay them back for it. Fourth, to explore the area around them. And fifth, to limit hungry visitors. It is this last objective that shows something about the Indians’ work ethic and food production. What was happening was there were many Indians that were taking advantage of the Pilgrim’s hospitality and staying there eating up their food. The Pilgrims wanted to be hospitable, but did not want to run out of food and so asked Massasoit to limit visitors to the amount they could handle. They were generous with gifts and hospitality, but did not want to become welfare providers, especially when they couldn’t afford it.

Pilgrims with Wampanoag

As the small expedition went out they could start to see why many Indians preferred to get the food from the English. The Indians, despite having a great abundance of natural resources, still struggled in having a stable food supply and clean habitations. As Edward Winslow (one of the two men on the expedition) says in his book Mourt’s Relation, describing a meager meal they had with Massasoit, “this meal only we had in two nights and a day, and had not one of us bought a partridge we had taken our journey fasting…he was to have us stay with them longer: but we desired to keep the Sabbath at home: and feared we should either be light-headed for want of sleep, for with bad lodging, the savages’ barbarous singing (for they use to sing themselves asleep), lice and fleas within doors, and mosquitoes without, we could hardly sleep all the time of our being there; we much fearing that if we should stay any longer, we should not be able to recover home for want of strength.”  Bradford remarks concerning this lack of prosperity among the Indians, “For the Indians used then to have nothing so much corn as they have since the English have stored them with their hows, and seen [the Englishmen’s] industry in breaking up new grounds therewith.”  On their trip some Indians desired that the Englishmen kill some crows, because they had been ruining the corn. There the two Englishmen with their superior weapons killed 80 crows in an afternoon.

We can see that the Indians benefited both from observing the English work ethic, and the technology it produced (such as guns and hows). This work ethic had come from the long history of Christendom where it had been taught that work is worship to God, that work is a blessing, that we are created to work and produce to the glory of God, that our first command from God is to “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion” (Gen. 1:28).

Even the monks in the Middle Ages were taught this and spent much of their time in working and agriculture. The Protestant Reformation continued this and expanded it with its teaching of vocation, that the farmer and the pastor are both doing God’s work. The Pilgrims understood the importance of work and produced great things. When my family and I were in Plymouth in 2009 we saw a mill built only fifteen years after the Pilgrims first landed. It was amazingly intricately designed with all sorts of wheels, gears, stones, and levers–and it’s still working! We can see that the Christianity of the Pilgrims made them hard-working, productive, and a relatively prosperous society. It was this culture that built America.

Read more at The Christian Philosophy of Food

Famine, Food, and Freedom

“People have, age after age, starved to death in lands with small populations and rich soil, and also lived richly in heavily populated areas…Much of the world has rich soil, but little of the world has the free men to make use of that soil.”~R.J. Rushdoony (Law and Liberty, p. 184-185)


Getting Started with Bees: An Aurora Farm Update

Opening a hive

My brother, dad, and I recently drove two counties over here in our homestate of Texas to pick up 8 local bee hives. The bees and their honey will form the backbone of our "artisan" product offering to our market-garden customers, and are a welcome addition to our current stock of sweetless produce. The adventure of picking them up was a success, but not without a fair share of trouble. The easiest way to minimize the hassle transporting bees is by performing the task at night when they are sleeping in their hives. We chose a moderate evening to move them.

"Summertime is when we transport our bees," Dad mentioned, referring back to his days as a beekeeper on his family orchard. Of course, the weather in Washington State was different than Texas. It is imperative that bees be transported at 50 degrees above Farhenheit, since bees tend to cluster at temperatures below 50, and when the hive is jarred on the journey to a new location, the clusters began to break apart, and the bees die. I would have enjoyed transporting during a Texas fall evening, but at least that night, Texas experienced a surprisingly low high of 85. A moderate wind also gave some relief to the chore. 


Frames full of bees

We arrived at the property where a first set of hives were kept, and unload our trailer and my brother. His task was to collect all the empty bee boxes, and dead hives he can pick up. Dad and I continued on into the night to a property where the remaining hives are.

We placed the most important tool for transporting bees, a smoker, behind us in the truck bed. If you ever have to light a smoker and travel to where the hives are, it is a good idea to pack even more fuel for the smoker then you anticipate using. In our case, the wind blowing through the bed burned through fuel out quickly. When we arrived at the location, we decided to attack the hive without the smoke. 

The hushed rustle of a thousand wings emerge from the inside of the box. That is the sound is the winged creatures during their sleep. The pioneers had their homes built for them, but they were the ones that carved a place on the land, collecting pollen, and building stores of honey in comb.

Four of the hives have not survived the year, and so they are quickly loaded onto the truck. The front lights fork into the grass, and illuminate our large, netted hats, as we head out to grab the "live" hive. Our gloves are slaked with sweat. We formulate a plan for moving the hives while dad secured the hive boxes together with a staple and hammer. It is best to secure the hive boxes several days before the move, since the bees do not take kindly to someone hammering on their home in the middle of the night (and who wouldn't!). Soon enough, the hammer's pounding made us wish we had not run out of smoke! 

The hive began to stir as we reached underneath the shallow crevices at the bottom of the box. The hive creaked; it was weighed down by the the bees, and the full honey combs they have stored over the course of the season. Later we find out that this is the strongest, most menacing of the hives. 

As their home became airborne, The bees begin to swarm out in droves, colliding into our protective clothing and helmets. We stumble sideways, bearing our cargo to the lowered tailgate of the truck. As soon as our cargo is deposited, it is a race to get away, and dive into the tall grass.

At that moment, every single killer bee documentary I watched flashed through my mental theater. If I could advice my younger self of anything, it would have been to never watch those National Geographic specials! The do not make the process of collecting bees any easier.

It did not get any better when I found I had not secured my helmet correctly, and two bees had slipped inside the netting. I retreated (although it appeared more like a route), and slipped the helmet off as I did, batting the bees away. I definitely would have benefited from having my dad check my gear. Thankfully, no harm was done. In fact, I survived the night without a single sting; my brother suffered 5; my dad, 3. 

It took 20 minutes for the hive to settle down so we could approach it again. When we finally did close the truck bed, the guard bees were still whacking into our clothes. Another 20 minutes, and we were off toward the first set of hives.

We made it back, the dead hives were on the trailer, and safely secured. It is always a good idea to secure the hives with straps during transport. Even with the weight, the hives could topple, and the disorganized swarm lost.

Lifting a frame

The hives at the first location were more easily loaded. Our smokers were loaded, and the smoke they produced was thick. Many people have the notion that smoke somehow puts the bees to sleep. This is not true.

The bees sense of smell is their most powerful sense, and smoke masks the bees alarm pheremones. Smoke also triggers their flight instinct when faced with natural fires. The bees retreat back into the hive and fill up on honey in case they have to move their hive to a new location. For us, it was a matter of minutes before we had moved each hive onto the back of the trailer. The final ropes were attached around the live hives and we headed for home. 

While in transit, the hives' weight already did their bit to slow our vehicle down, but it is worth noting that continued jarring will not help keep your bees calm and inside the hive. It is best to travel well below the speed limit and keep a slow, steady pace. The vibration of the engine will keep the bees quiet. 

Home for our bees was not on our land. We still haven’t prepared for the bees, so for now, they wait on a friend’s land, while we build a permanent platform. Unloading the bees required only smoke, and by then it was 4 AM. With our charges on a makeshift platform, we departed to the comfort of our beds.

Once we get our bees on the land, I'll check back in and share some more about maintaining hives..

Thanks goes to Robb Wokaty for input on some researched points.

For more info on how to get started with Beekeeping, check out Beekeeping for Beginners.

Walk Your Farm with THE Owner

Walk your Farm with THE Owner

It is a very busy season around the farm here, and it is hard to take time to blog. I guess blogging on a farm changes with the seasons along with everything else. The Lord is very gracious and merciful, and has blessed our growing season more than my skill and efforts merit. May he help me to be faithful in the little things everyday. The picture above shows the beautiful garden of a dear family that we visited this past weekend.

The following is an excerpt from my book that several people have said they appreciated, so I thought I would share it with all of you.

Walking Your Farm with the Owner

One thing that could help promote a better sense of stewardship in our hearts is taking a walk around the farm. The goal of the walk should not be to dwell on the work you need to do on the farm, but rather to simply walk the farm with its Owner. Apparently God walked with Adam, the first steward, in the garden of Eden. And I think the Lord would enjoy walking with us around the farms He has given us.

On your walk with the Lord go alone if possible. Pray out loud or whisper if that would be more comfortable. But just talk with the Lord and give Him a tour of the farm. Give Him thanks for all that He has blessed you with. Show Him the garden, the chickens, the pasture, the greenhouse, the cows—whatever you have, and give Him an account of how you have been caring for and working them. Acknowledge that they all belong to Him and ask Him to show you how you can better manage them. When you come across the chickens that are walking around in mud because you have been putting off moving them, then repent and ask Him to help you do a better job. Tell Him about the problem you have with disease on your tomato plants, or erosion in your newly planted pasture and ask Him to show you a solution. At times just be silent and observe. Look at His design in Creation. Pay attention to the needs that you may have previously overlooked. And give notice to any opportunities that He may reveal to you, like the acorns in the woods that could be fed to the pigs. At the end of the walk give thanks to God for granting you this land and dedicate it to His glory.

Read Full Article on Redeeming the Dirt

Trust and Science

About a week ago one of my younger brothers leaned against one of our book shelves and it fell, all the books on it falling as well. But in this accident one of our old copies of Handel's Messiah opened and something fell out of it. It was a program for a performance of Messiah in New York city on July 21, 1917. It is neat to look through, but something particular that caught my eye was the ad for Nestle's Food. Here is most of the ad:

"Your baby can't grow rosy and strong if he doesn't have the right food. Nurse your baby, if you can. If you can't, wean him on 
Nestle's Food
(A complete food–not a milk modifier)
Don't give him raw cow's milk. Cow's milk needs a calf's four stomachs to digest it. "Cow's milk, as ordinarily marketed, is unfit for human consumption," says the U.S. Government.

But there is still something in cow's milk that is good for your baby, if that something is modified and purified so that it is as light, as satisfying and as pure as mother's milk itself. That is what is done for you in Nestle's Food. It comes to you reduced to a powder–in an air-tight can. You only add water–boil one minute–and it's ready with just the right amount of fats, protieds, and carbohydrates that will make a healthy baby."

I post this not to make a statement on milk. I want to show that the people trusted the government and science very much at this time. Another ad also promotes itself by saying "Best by U.S. Gov't Test." This was near the end of the progressive era which had great optimism in man's knowledge, institutions, and government. Even though World War I damaged this optimism it continued fairly strong in the popular sphere up to the 60s and the Hippies. Then the optimism was focused elsewhere (still not in a good direction), and the centralized systems took a hit. Today, some people still have a tendency to trust the government, but a growing movement is reacting against this into an almost total distrust of government and science. 

Read More on The Christian Philosophy of Food blog.

The Cultural Puzzle and Food

Puzzle Time

When dealing with food it it important to deal with it in its context of life. Here is a quote that describes this very well by Ken Myers in his book, All God's Children and Blue Suede Shoes (p. 34):

"We can't simplify things too quickly by isolating one of these cultural expressions and asking how Scripture applies to it in isolation from everything else, for then it's not part of that social experience that's called culture. We cannot, for example, evaluate the virtues and vices of fast food in our culture merely by looking at Biblical teaching about meals. We have to take into consideration the place of the automobile and highways in our culture, our view of time and convenience, the pressures on modern families (both those relieved and those exacerbated by fast food), the opportunity for employment created by this new service industry, and the many other pieces of the cultural puzzle. We then have to ask, given all the of the other forces that shape modern culture, whether eliminating McDonald's from the equation would mean that the people would automatically eat more nutritious home-cooked meals with the family gathered around the table, or whether they would eat more frozen TV dinners on their own unsynchronized schedules."

While I don't agree with everything in Myers' book, he really hit it on the head at this point. We really need a more comprehensive view of the many cultural aspects of food before we can deal with the details of each aspect. Too often we want to break things down to the specifics and forget that life is interconnected. Instead we can, and should, discuss economics, nutrition, aesthetics, community, etc. all under the subject of food.

As “a little leaven leavens the whole lump” (1 Cor. 5:6 ESV), so we ought to be careful that every area of life is examined, including its relations to other areas of life. It is not easy to connect the dots, nor is it easy to balance the unity of the whole and diversity of the details. So may we humbly use the wisdom of God in trying to adjust our whole life in accordance with His Word, recognizing the difficulties of the web of "the culture puzzle".


Peter Bringe is the author of the recently published book The Christian Philosophy of Food.The Christian Philosophy of Food



Thankfulness and Its Implications


grateful for the bounty, it just keeps on coming!


While it is good to strive for goodness and beauty in our food, if we are unthankful, we will defeat our own efforts. Unthankfulness is a refusal to praise God, a refusal to enjoy Him. To do so is defiance in the face of God’s blessings. Instead we should always be thankful to God (1 Thess. 5:18), as every good gift is from Him (James 1:17). Selfishness is the opposite of thankfulness, and if I had to pick one thing that is wrong with the current view of food, selfishness would be a top choice. 

There are two kinds of selfishness that I see as a problem. The first is a now-centered, pleasure seeking self-centeredness that has gone mainstream in our culture. Our food is largely meant to fulfill our immediate cravings, without regard to future consequences. We often use our agriculture for today, not looking to its future for others. We eat more food with less hospitality and fellowship around the table, making for shorter meals with a faster intake of food. For the materialist at least, food becomes merely an economic commodity, instead of a work of love and beauty for others. This selfishness tends to want the most personal gain, especially sensual gain, with the least work. Perhaps these words fit:

“Be not among drunkards
or among gluttonous eaters of meat,
for the drunkard and the glutton will come to poverty,
and slumber will clothe them with rags.”
(Proverbs 23:20-21 ESV)

But there is also a kind of self-centeredness that is not over-indulgent, but can be over-restrictive. Some might complain too much about what the corporations are giving us and forget the blessings that we do have. Some might over-emphasize nutrition and get caught up in banning any food that might have anything detrimental to health. Unintentionally, they could become ungrateful for everything that is not completely healthy. Instead, even though we strive for health and nutrition, we should be grateful and content with what we have. And some might think that food is only a means to survive, and the enjoyment of food because it gives physical pleasure is unbecoming. Instead, we should praise God for giving us tasty food that is pleasing and beautiful to our God-given senses. This restrictive way of being ungrateful is strongly addressed in the Bible:

“Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons, through the insincerity of liars whose consciences are seared, who forbid marriage and require abstinence from foods that God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth. For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, for it is made holy by the word of God and prayer.” (1 Timothy 4:1–5)

The food Christians eat is made holy, as it is set apart for righteousness by the Word of God and prayer. This is because if we are consistent as Christians, we will eat for God’s glory with thanksgiving to Him. When that is done, we will neither be selfishly sensual or selfishly health-obsessed. We will be God-centered, and will joyfully thank God for making His food healthy and tasty. We will stand in awe of His wisdom in His creation, and we will not pervert His blessings for our glory. Thankfulness to God is a great starting point to solving our food problems.

Better is a dinner of herbs where love is
than a fattened ox and hatred with it.
(Proverbs 15:17)
Peter is the author of a new book which is available in the True Food Solution store, called The Christian Philosophy of Food.