Welcome to Harmony Hillside

Caring for Creation

by Erik Lutz on October 1, 2020
Featured in Answers Magazine
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As modern homesteaders, Erik and Patty Lutz have a firsthand understanding of biblical dominion.

Moaning cries woke me in the dead of night. Stumbling out of bed, I glanced at the clock: 2 a.m. The noise also woke my wife, and together we hurried to slip rubber boots over our pajamas.

I knew that sound—I’ve heard the wail of a dying chicken before. Hearts pounding, we rushed out the front door into the cool night air and started toward the coop. I knew we might already be too late.

Questions ran through my mind: Did I forget to close the gate? How could something break in? I soon found the answer. The egg door was hanging open. A raccoon must have figured out how to work the latches. They’re the only critters smart enough.

Following the horrible moans and trail of feathers with my flashlight, I found an injured hen in the grass behind the coop. It was our friendly Lucille, her chocolate-brown plumage torn and flecked with blood. Thankfully the wound was not deep. After some first aid, we laid Lucille gently in a hospital cage in the back room. Then I fell back into bed, still a bit shaky.

I wouldn’t trade this lifestyle for anything as I fulfill God’s mandate to be a good steward of his creation.

Midnight adventures like this are part of life on the farm. To me—a modern homesteader—every predator, thorn, and blister is a reminder of how far the world has fallen from Eden. Although I don’t relish dabbing blood off a squirming chicken, I wouldn’t trade this lifestyle for anything as I fulfill God’s mandate to be a good steward of his creation.

Becoming Homesteaders

My journey started in 2012 with a backyard garden. As a full-time web content developer, I had no practical experience growing plants. But I had watched a documentary that opened my eyes about our nation’s food system. It sparked a quest for what I consider “real food” that was unprocessed and uncontaminated. Then I found a book about homesteading (the first of many) and was inspired by the idea of producing my own food, fuel, and other provisions directly from the land. So I borrowed a rototiller and turned up a patch of earth in my backyard. Visions of ripe tomatoes, carrots, and squash filled my mind as I carefully covered rows of seeds.

Well, that first garden was a disaster, producing more weeds than food. Apparently, plants need to be watered, weeded, and protected from marauding insects. I was daunted but kept at it and learned as I went. Opting for a raised bed instead of a rototiller reduced my weeding chores and improved the soil quality. Over time, one raised bed became four, then a dozen. Sprawling squash vines, tomatoes, beans, and garlic declared their conquest of the remaining lawn.

During that time I married a sweet country girl, and we started growing a family together. We soon decided to try beekeeping and were enthralled by these amazing insects—not to mention the deliciously rich, floral honey. Then one day we brought home five fluffy chicks. We were officially hooked on homesteading, but our little backyard was filling up fast.

So in 2016 we took a leap of faith to purchase a run-down farmhouse on a few acres of eroded Kentucky hillside. Determined to renovate the old house and restore the land’s fertility, we set to work establishing Harmony Hillside Farm.

Farm Life

Photo by Cody Lutz

Life on the farm starts before sunup—a golden time for Erik to spend in creation.

Life on the Farm

Fast forward to today. Inside the fixed-up farmhouse, the kitchen table is the heart of our family’s activities—from mealtime to playtime, schooltime to Bible time. The trusty woodstove provides all our heat during winter, and we also use it for some of the cooking. All our water is freely provided by the rain, collected from the roof into a cistern.

Out the front door, the lawn has been replaced by a tapestry of gardens—blanketed with mulch, threaded with pathways, and patterned with several dozen species of plants. The side yard is growing into a food forest of edible fruit and nut trees and flourishing with shrubs, flowers, vegetables, and herbs.

On the left, a colorful flock of chickens happily scratch and hunt for bugs. In a hutch beside the coop, a pair of bunnies nibble some hay with pink noses wiggling. A row of oak logs stacked nearby grows brown-and-white-flecked shiitake mushrooms. Honeybees hum through the air, carrying nectar to their hives behind the house.

Over on the hillside we’ve built a barn, cleared an overgrown field for pasture, and recently finished putting up a fence for cattle and goats. Now the occasional lowing of a milk cow punctuates the chatter of hens here on our little farm.

Back to the Land

Why are we doing all of this? Well, the way I see it, most homegrown food is fresher, healthier, tastier, cheaper, and more reliable than food from the supermarket. It’s also incredibly rewarding! We love the whole process of planting a tiny seed, nurturing it to maturity, harvesting the yield, preparing it for dinner, and finally sitting down to a satisfying meal. Yet this lifestyle offers much more than just food.

It also slows down the pace of life. As a result of often being outdoors, I am more connected to the land and its creatures. I’ve learned that observing natural patterns is key to being a good gardener. Tracking the sun’s position through the seasons helps me see where to plant for the best growth. I’ve become keenly aware of outdoor temperature and humidity levels, as well as the timing of rains each month. Identifying local flora and fauna has further helped me appreciate the intricate ecosystems surrounding our farm.

Living with the seasons is a breath of peace in our hurried society. Part of the charm of “the simple life” is taking time to appreciate each moment as a gift. The garden is a quiet space of restful work—a beautiful, fruitful place.

Plus, homesteading as a husband and dad gives me daily opportunities to work alongside my wife and children. Teachable moments easily abound as we care for the gardens, animals, and other living systems. Growing food together helps us grow closer to each other as well.

Herb Garden

Photo by Cody Lutz

The farm is a perfect place for Erik and Patty to raise their two daughters, who enjoy tending the herb gardens.

Full-Service Chickens

Chicken

Photo by Cody Lutz

Along the way I realized the farm itself is an ecosystem. Each element connects to many others, and each serves multiple functions. Take our chicken Lucille for example (now that she has recovered from her traumatic incident).

Of course, eggs and meat are the most well-known benefits a hen provides. But to a compost-happy gardener, her manure is just as valuable. It beats paying for chemical fertilizers and is a natural by-product of the chicken’s other helpful services, including snacking on garden pests, cleaning up food waste, eating weeds, and scratching up soil.

Beyond these tangible gains from our flock, my family has also received many hours of free entertainment. Chicken-watching is a favorite pastime of farm life, for good reason. Their fidgety antics and squawking arguments never cease to amuse.

And this range of talents is not unique to chickens. The Lord has gifted all his creatures with wonderfully diverse abilities. As another example, an apple tree yields more than apples. It also gives comfortable shade, habitat for songbirds, nectar for honeybees, leaves for mulch, roots that stabilize the soil, branches for grafting, and eventually logs for firewood.

Understanding these connections helps us be better stewards of the resources God has given. We’re thankful God didn’t leave us in the dark when it comes to caring for the environment. Scripture gives clear teaching about our place in creation, starting at the very beginning.

Dominion Gone Wrong

After creating the first man and woman, God blessed them and commanded them to have dominion over all the creatures on earth (Genesis 1:28). He put Adam and Eve in the beautiful garden of Eden to work it and keep it (Genesis 2:15).

Sadly, in the following chapters we see how sin marred both nature and human nature. Since the fall, our hearts incline toward evil, grieving the Creator (Genesis 6:5–6). The dominion that God entrusted to Adam and Eve quickly degraded into tyranny. Because of human greed and pride, violence filled the earth (Genesis 6:11). And although God judged the ancient world with a flood, to this day cruelty and abuse are commonplace.

Many people think dominion means that we can do whatever we want. However, biblical dominion is not despotism. A despot is a ruler with ultimate authority and unlimited power, but humans have neither of these qualities. Our rule over creation is limited. You and I are subregents under the authority of the King of kings. We are stewards entrusted with the care of a world that does not belong to us.

Stewardship by Design

Erik and Patty

Photo by Cody Lutz

Together, Erik and Patty practice wise stewardship as they care for the animals and land on their growing farm.

As Christians, we are called to be imitators of God and to walk in love (Ephesians 5:1–2). I believe this calling applies not just to our interactions with other people but also to our stewardship of the earth and its creatures. We ought to imitate God in the way we exercise dominion.

We should govern like he does—with love. Psalm 145 describes God’s dominion over creation by saying, “The Lord is good to all, and his mercy is over all that he has made” (verse 9), and “The Lord is righteous in all his ways and kind in all his works” (verse 17). If this is how God operates, then mercy and kindness should characterize all of our works as well.

What does kind and merciful dominion look like? Here are some characteristics of faithful earth stewardship.

Begin with Humility

Even tending a houseplant can be baffling at times, let alone predicting the weather for planting crops. Anytime we interact with the natural world, we should remember we are not God. Even with modern advances in science and technology, our understanding is nothing compared to the wisdom of the Creator who designed the universe. Rather than assuming you know best, acknowledge your limitations and always be willing to learn how to better steward that peace lily in the corner of your living room. Humility tempers our actions with appropriate caution.

Ground Your Thinking in God’s Word

To reflect the heart of God in our care for creation, we first need to understand his character. The Bible is God’s revelation to us, and wisdom begins with knowing him through his Word (Proverbs 9:10). In addition, a biblical worldview starting in Genesis gives the right perspective of our place and purpose in the cosmos.

Recognize the Sinfulness of Human Hearts

As in all areas of the Christian life, being a faithful steward does not come naturally to us because of sin. Our hearts tend toward greed—wanting more than we need—and we yearn for control even when it is not healthy. Being mindful of these impulses helps us guard against selfishly misusing our God-given dominion.

Minimize Waste

Humanity has the potential to create wonderful things or commit unspeakable atrocities. Even our best ambitions frequently go astray. Act with restraint, since excess often results in waste. We should also aim to make the best use of all available resources. Composting your food scraps, installing low-flow plumbing fixtures, and shopping with reusable bags are all easy ways to practice good stewardship by reducing waste.

Show Compassion Toward All Creatures

Imitating God’s care for creation, we should never abuse animals but always treat them with mercy (Proverbs 12:10). Even trees and other plants should be valued and used with care, as God instructed the Israelites in Deuteronomy 20:19 and elsewhere. Tending a garden or window box is one of the best ways to learn the art of nurturing. Taking care of a pet is another good opportunity, especially for kids.

Consider Future Generations

Think beyond the present moment when faced with a choice that impacts the environment. We should ask, “Will this leave God’s earth better or worse for my grandchildren—and their grandchildren?” It could be a question as big as how to ethically produce electricity or as small as which shirt to buy (new or used? cotton or synthetic?). As consumers, we often don’t see the environmental consequences of our decisions, such as the rivers in China that run black with dye from designer jeans. Answering this question may require some research as we seek to make educated decisions with the information we have.

Observe and Imitate God’s World

Our best designs reflect the Creator’s design in nature. When you’re walking in the park, strolling on the beach, or just lifting a rock in the yard, take a look at the ecosystems around you. The complexity is incredible. Applying these patterns to our own systems helps them function more harmoniously. For example, covering bare soil with a layer of wood chips, straw, or other organic mulch mirrors the way leaves cover the soil in a forest. This method conserves moisture, protects plant roots, reduces soil erosion, and feeds microbial life. Look for ways you can encourage diversity and create beneficial interactions, such as planting wildflowers near your tomatoes to attract pollinators and other helpful insects.

These principles can help us not only when cultivating a garden, but also in almost every decision we make. What we grow, kill, eat, buy, wear, build—all of our choices have consequences. Good stewardship requires giving thought to our actions and their results.

Start Where You Are

The responsibility to care for creation is especially apparent here at Harmony Hillside. An injured hen quivering in my arms brings the Creator’s dominion mandate to life in a visceral way. But stewardship is not limited to homesteaders and farmers. Whether you grow herbs in your urban apartment or manage a sprawling cattle ranch, this mandate calls us all to action.

Every human being bears the image of God and represents him on the earth. Each of us is entrusted with the responsibility to care for a world that does not belong to us, and “it is required of stewards that they be found faithful” (1 Corinthians 4:2). Let’s look to the Lord as our example so we can manage earth’s resources and tend its creatures in a way that pleases him, until he returns.

Erik Lutz worked in Answers in Genesis’ internet outreach department until 2019. Erik continues an internet career as he and his wife, Patty, happily raise two daughters and a growing hoard of farm animals on their homestead in Northern Kentucky.

Answers Magazine

October–December 2020

When it comes to creation care, Christians have a deeper calling than secular environmentalists.

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