The hard-Working Beauty of Sunflowers

Beans climbing on sunflowers

Beans climbing on sunflowers

Like most of my garden friends I love sunflowers, but I must confess I usually only plant them so that the beans have something to climb on when they grow beyond their bamboo teepees and the squirrels have something to eat at the end of summer. We love to watch them scampering up the tall stalks to hang upside down on the huge flower heads.

I found this article in the Hard Working Beauty of Sunflowers recently that I thought was well worth a read.

The statement: “They’re a really iconic way to make people notice that you’re trying to make a change in the community,” really caught my imagination. I also found it very interesting that sunflowers are probably the second-oldest domesticated seed crop in eastern North America. (squash is the oldest). Evidently they originated in Mexico at least as far back as 2600 BC.

Another interesting fact I came across is that sunflower oil became popular in Europe in the 18th century, particularly with members of the Russian Orthodox Church, because sunflower oil was one of the few oils that was not prohibited during Lent.

I was also impressed to hear that recent research suggests sunflowers can pull heavy metal contaminants from polluted soil. They were used after the Chernobyl disaster, and more recently in response to the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster. Koyu Abe, chief monk at the Buddhist Joenji temple has planted 200,000 flowers at the temple and distributed many more seeds. Read the story here

Then I came across this beautiful poem

Aztec Flower Song (anonymous, pre-Columbian)

Be indomitable, Oh my heart!
Love only the sunflower;
It is the flower of the Giver-of-Life!
What can my heart do?
Have we come, have we sojourned here on earth in vain?
As the flowers wither, I shall go.
Will there be nothing of my glory ever?
Will there be nothing of my fame on earth?
At most songs, at most flowers,
What can my heart do?
Have we come, have we sojourned on earth in vain?

So next time you see a sunflower in a bouquet of flowers or smiling over your neighbour’s fence remember that this is one of God’s long beloved flower and offer a prayer of thanks.


Whole Tree Architecture

Whole tree architecture - photo by Paul Kelley for New York Times

Whole tree architecture – photo by Paul Kelley for New York Times

I just could not resist posting this intriguing idea which I connected to at Inhabitat (not inhabit).

According to the Forest Products Laboratory, a whole, unmilled tree can support 50 percent more weight than the largest piece of lumber milled from the same tree. Putting this principle into practice, Whole Tree Architecture is dedicated to building with materials that lumber companies consider scrap – weed trees, also know as ‘managed forest thinnings.’ The resulting projects are beautiful displays of locally sourced and sustainably managed materials.

Not to be confused with a traditional log cabin, building with whole trees is a sustainable, affordable building philosophy Roald Gundersun has been refining for the past 16 years. As much a forest management process as it is a building technique, Gundersun uses only local, small diameter — 10-inches or less — trees culled from the client’s site, and larger trees already downed by disease or wind. Trees are selected based on forest stand density and invasive species management as well as structural integrity and aesthetics. There is no milling, transportation, or bulk curing.

The benefits are economic as well as ecological. According to WTA, “…whole tree construction invests a greater proportion of its costs into local jobs and materials than conventional construction and also promotes healthy forest management for local timber resources.” Gunderson’s philosophy is holistic; every aspect of a project — design, engineering, construction and craftsmanship — is considered in light of the local ecology and economy.

While Whole Tree Architecture is obviously not feasible for everyone, it is certainly a brilliantly forward-thinking solution for the small farming community in Wisconsin where WTA is based. In our opinion, their use of local labor and local, renewable, and sustainably-managed materials offers a prescient vision of a vibrant, green future.

This is taken from an article first published in the New York Times. You can find the original article here

How To Build A Rain Garden

I have been intrigued by the concept of rain gardens for quite a while and was delighted to see this article from my friends at Soulsby Farm – A Very Small Farm. It is the best article on rain gardens that I have come across.

How to Build a Rain Garden

Got rain on the brain?

It hasn’t been very rainy yet, but it sure will be again soon. Have you thought about where all thatrain water is going to go? Rain gardens will capture the rain water and get into the ground where it belongs!

Every time it rains, we generate a ton of water.  Every drop collected with all of our neighbors, every parking lot, every business, every hard surface, generates rain water.  When we collect all that rain water together, it is usually too much for our local streams, creeks, and lakes to handle. When we pipe all that water to our local waterways, we create a lot of harm – we increase erosion and flooding, reduce native plant populations, and can even increase the spread ofinvasive species.

Rain gardens were developed as a way for a homeowner to do their part and beautify their property, while also trying to manage rain water at home and get it into the ground where it belongs.

What is a Rain Garden? Rain gardens are shallow depressions, usually six inches deep, that are hand-dug and planted with deep rooted, water-loving nativeplants.  Essentially our rain water is directed from our roofs to a sited rain garden where water can be captured and temporarily stored it for one to three days in duration.  Once there the plants, soil and microbes in the soil work together to clean the water, while the deep rooted native plants create capillaries that help it to soak into the ground .

When these gardens are not soaking up rain water, they are looking great and enhancing our landscapes.   Native plants have great leaf textures, a variety of flower colors and heights to create interesting and unique gardens for our homes.

How to Build a Rain Garden:
For more “how-to” information on rain gardens, please visit our resource page at:

Rain Garden Plant Lists for sunny & shady sites available on our website at:

This article was written by Soulsby Farm’s good friend John Gishnock of Formecology. John is the foremost authority in Rain Gardens in the Midwest and gives lectures throughout the US on subjects that include rain gardens, natural stone hardscape features, native landscape design, and sustainable landscape features. For information about John and his company please visit his website or click on the links above.

Making Peace with the Land

Making Peace with the Land

Making Peace with the Land

I have just started reading Making Peace with the Land: God’s Call to reconcile with creation by agriculturalist Fred Bahnson and theologian Norman Wirzba. This is the seventh book in the resources for Reconciliation series.

All I can say at this point is that this is a very profound book, one that I think is essential for all who are interested in a holistic view of faith. Even reading the prologue has turned some of my thinking on its head. And what time to do this than after Pentecost as we enter the season of Ordinary time or as some prefer to call it Kingdom time. Listen to this provokative beginning talking about the first couple of chapters of Genesis.

We are right to believe that God loves you and me. But in these earliest pages of Scripture, we discover that God’s first love is the soil. This is how it has to be, because without healthy soil and the fertility and food it makes possible, there would be not terrestrial life of any kind. God’s love for us- described definitively in John 3:16 as God’s giving of his Son to us- only makes sense in terms of God’s love for the earth that sustains us. God daily cares for us by providing the nurture of food, as well as the the gifts of fiber and timber and energy, all of which find their origin in soil…. Genesis 2:15 is an invitation to know and share in God’s love for the whole creation. (pp16,18).

Over the next week or so I plan to post several articles about how we can steward God’s good earth in creative ways. If you know of examples of creative approaches to stewardship that you think need to be shared I would love to hear from you.

A Breath Prayer for Pentecost

I posted this on facebook this morning and meant to post it to the blog as well – enjoy

Tomorrow is Pentecost – this prayer was written as I contemplated the Holy Spirit breathed into us by Jesus (Jn 20:22)
Spirit of God may we breathe in and hold your love within us
May we breathe out and share it with the world
Spirit of God may we breathe in and hold your peace within us
May we breathe out and share it with the world
Spirit of God may we breathe in and hold your life within us
May we breathe out and share it with the world.

Faith Transforms the Earth into A Paradise – Wisdom from Jean Pierre de Caussade

Art at Overseas Ministries Study Centre

Art at Overseas Ministries Study Centre

Last week my good friend Tom Balke sent me this quote from 18th century French Mystic Jean Pierre De Caussade. (1675 – 1751).

“God instructs the heart, not by ideas but by pains and contradictions.”

His classic writings in Abandonment to Divine Providence express the belief that his belief that the present moment is a sacrament from God and that self-abandonment to it and its needs is a holy state. – right up my alley.

I must confess that I was not familiar with his work. But the quote made me hungry for more. So an internet search later I came up with some beautiful quotes and much more wisdom from this great man. Here are my favourites which I gleaned here that I thought you might enjoy.

Come, then, my beloved souls, let us fly to that love which calls us.
Why are we waiting?
Let us set out at once,
Let us lose ourselves in the very heart of God and become intoxicated with His love.
Let us snatch from His heart the key to all the treasures of the world and start out right away on the road to heaven.

There is no need to fear that any lock will hold us back.
Our key will open every door.

There is no room we cannot enter.
We can make ourselves free of the garden, the cellar, and the vineyard as well.
If we want to explore the countryside, no one will hinder us.
We can come and go;
We can enter and leave any place we wish,
Because we have the key of David, the key of knowledge, and the key of the abyss that holds the hidden treasures of divine wisdom.
It is this key that opens the doors of mystical death and its sacred darkness.
By it we can enter the deepest dungeons and emerge safe and sound.
It gives us entrance into that blessed spot where the light of knowledge shines and the Bridegroom takes His noonday rest.

There we quickly learn how to win His kiss and ascend with surety the steps of the nuptial couch.
And there we learn the secrets of love-
Divine secrets that cannot be revealed and which no human tongue can ever describe.

Form Beevers, Jon, trans. Abandonment to Divine Providence, NY Doubleday, 1975, pp 25,37, 40, 73, 81-82

Faith transforms the earth into a paradise.

By it our hearts are raised with the joy of our nearness to heaven.

Every moment reveals God to us.

Faith is our light in this life.

By it we know the truth without seeing it, we are put in touch with what we cannot feel, recognize what we cannot see, and view the world stripped of all its outer shell.

Faith unlocks God’s treasury.

It is the key to all the vastness of His wisdom.

The emptiness of all created things is disclosed by faith, and it is by faith that God reveals Himself …

With faith,

All that is dark becomes light, and what is bitter becomes sweet.

Faith transforms ugliness into beauty, and malice into kindness.

Faith is the mother of tenderness, trust, and joy …

There is nothing faith cannot overcome;

It passes beyond all shadows and through the darkest clouds to reach the truth, which it embraces and can never be parted from.

Ramiere, Rev. H., trans. Abandonment. New York: Benziger Brothers, 1887, pp. 112

The Overflow Project by Brian Wolters

Water is life

Water is life

This morning’s post comes from Brian “Wolt” Wolters. Wolt is the executive director of the Overflow Project . The issue of access to fresh water is one that I am particularly concerned about and I think that The Overflow Project is a very creative response to this issue.

I remember a report in my church’s bulletin the week after Easter titled “Easter by the numbers” sharing the number of Easter volunteers, attendees, services, and flowers. In general, churches promote and plan well in advance for Easter by decorating sanctuaries, orientating volunteers, and expanding parking lots. This year a church even rented out the Benaroya Hall in downtown Seattle for its Easter gathering. Clearly, a phenomenon exists where people attend a church service on Easter more than any other day of the year, and churches make a big deal about it.

I am fascinated with Jesus, the very one people celebrate coming back to life on Easter Sunday. Joyfully and ironically, Jesus doesn’t disappear after Easter Sunday. In fact, Jesus lives on earth after his death before he ascends. The Holy Spirit then arrives on Pentecost. Easter is a season that spans 50 days.

Why do people – including churches- typically stop celebrating the day after Easter?

An alternative exists: living a life similar to Jesus as he actually teaches by being light in this world where there is so much darkness, caring for the poor and broken, and celebrating the hope and new life of Christ that he offers to all. Enough is enough. You have all that you need in Christ. Jesus ushers a new way of living in the world post-death as a testimony to us.

What does Easter and the significance of how Christ lives after his death mean to you? What would it look like to form new habits of faith and live intentionally? Could you go beyond writing checks and instead live and give generously out of the overflow in your life?

This year a small team and I launched a new endeavor called The Overflow Project to invite individuals and communities all around the world to participate in a new kind of living. During the 50 days between Easter and Pentecost we developed resources for groups and churches to celebrate and live simply to break down the barrier that divides rich and poor and to free us from ignorance about poverty.

Providing water brings life

Providing water brings life

Currently about 1 billion people in the world live without access to clean safe drinking water –a basic human right and a fundamental need for empowerment and economic development.

On Pentecost Sunday we will receive participant’s collective contributions to support sustainable clean water projects in Uganda. This effort changes our lives by opening our eyes to a different kind of life and changes Uganda through investing in clean water solutions and hygiene training.

The Overflow Project’s 50-Day Challenge is still happening right now. Anybody can join, even for the few days that remain.

We have so much to celebrate today! Christ has risen. Remember Easter for what it is, even today, nearly 50 days later.

Brian “Wolt” Wolters