How is Community Building like Farming?

There are many topics worthy of focus in the 29 December 2015 message from the Universal House of Justice: it is packed full of wonderful insights and guidance that generations of people around the world will continue to learn about as they work together to build a new society. I chose to look at the analogy of farming as it relates to the community building process. At the very end of the message, the Universal House of Justice states:

All that the followers of Baha’u’llah have learned in the last twenty years must culminate in the accomplishments of the next five. The scale of what is being asked of them brings to mind one of His Tablets in which He describes, in striking terms, the challenge entailed in spreading His Cause:

‘How many the lands that remained untilled and uncultivated; and how many the lands that were tilled and cultivated, and yet remained without water; and how many the lands which, when the harvest time arrived, no harvester came forth to reap! However, through the wonders of God’s favour and the revelations of His loving-kindness, We cherish the hope that souls may appear who are the embodiments of heavenly virtue and who will occupy themselves with teaching the Cause of God and training all that dwell on earth.’1

The Universal House of Justice calls to mind this particular quote when they think about “the scale of what is being asked”. I wondered about the significance of this beautiful passage. I decided to try and read up a little more to try and find other instances where the analogy of farming is used in the Baha’i Writings. I started reading The Tablets of the Divine Plan written by Abdu’l-Baha during the period of 1916-1917, and realized that He used this analogy all the time. A few examples below are highlighted:

Now you must become heavenly farmers and scatter pure seeds in the prepared soil. The harvest of every other seed is limited, but the bounty and the blessing of the seed of the divine teachings is unlimited. Throughout the coming centuries and cycles many harvests will be gathered.2

A person declaring the glad tidings of the appearance of the realities and significances of the Kingdom is like unto a farmer who scatters pure seeds in the rich soil.3

The sons and daughters of the Kingdom are like unto the real farmers. Through whichever state or country they pass they display self sacrifice and sow the divine seeds. From that seed harvests are produced.4

While I reflected on the passage from Baha’u’llah and these writings of Abdu’l-Baha, I was reminded of the Ruhi Institute, the tool that the Universal House of Justice has guided the Baha’i community to use in order to sustainably assist ever-expanding numbers of people to build capacity for meaningful service to their communities. As many people are aware, the Ruhi Institute is one of the central components of the current series of Plans that the Baha’i community is engaged in. In the last section of Book 6 (Teaching the Cause) of the Ruhi Institute it states:

The principles governing the growth of plants are the same in a small flower bed and in a farm spread over hundreds of hectares. Yet tending a few plants in one’s personal garden is very different from farming large extensions.5

So how is farming very different from tending a few plants on one’s personal garden? Those who are actually farmers would definitely know a lot about this, though from my limited knowledge, I could list a few ideas:

  1. Farms can never rely on just one person to do the farming. A team of people who work together must tend the farm. This sounds like the spirit of mutual support and assistance, and the idea of “core teams” that the community building process fosters!
  1. The team of people must be trained. They might not all carry out the same functions, but they have specific tasks, and specific training that suits those functions. Isn’t it interesting that the Ruhi Institute parallels this with its sequences of courses? Each course is focused on developing the knowledge, skills, qualities and attitudes for different aspects of community building, and individuals can choose to focus on different aspects of the community building process such as home-visits, children’s classes, animating junior youth groups, tutoring study circles, teaching the Faith directly in campaigns, hosting firesides and youth gatherings, to name a few.
  1. The workers on the farm use machinery to make their work easier, and enable them to tend to many more crops at once. Ok, this might be a little bit of a stretch, but maybe this could relate to our cluster reflection meetings that happen every three months, the youth gatherings that are now proliferating across neighbourhoods, regions and cities, and even the administrative structures that are developing in harmony – the Local Spiritual Assemblies, Auxiliary Board members and their assistants, coordinators and the Area Teaching Committees.
  1. Farming must be systematic. It requires a plan that all can follow and different steps along the way. The stages of sowing seeds, cultivating and harvesting correspond really well to the stages of the 3 month cycles that the Baha’i community operates in – expansion, consolidation and reflection.

There are probably many more insights we could gain from farming and too many to write in this blog. Perhaps this is a topic we can learn more about with our communities. I have often heard the statement, in conversations about teaching the Faith, that “we are planting the seeds for the future”. Maybe now we can take this statement further, and ask ourselves the questions: How do we sow large numbers of seeds, cultivate them, and harvest them systematically? How do we ensure that there are growing numbers of workers on the farm and it is not just one or two farmers trying to do everything? How do we ensure that the farmers are supported to carry out and sustain their work? What is the nature of the crop that we are trying to cultivate and harvest?

Good luck with your farms everyone!

  1. The Universal House of Justice, 29 December 2015 message []
  2. Abdu’l-Baha, Tablets of the Divine Plan, p. 6 []
  3. Ibid. p. 12 []
  4. Ibid. p. 16 []
  5. Ruhi Institute, Book 6 []

About the Author

Haylee currently lives in Rarotonga, Cook Islands with her husband. Alongside snorkelling, enjoying nature and studying nursing, she loves to teach children and accompany junior youth through the educational process that Baha'is are learning to foster across the globe. She also loves to talk and share ideas with others about how this world can become a much better place - and that is why Baha'i Blog is so great!

Discussion 11 Comments

  1. I very much appreciate this article. I would love to continue learning along this line – how to understand the different soils of the land and how to plant and penetrate according to unique need?

    1. Hi there Barbra! Thank you for your comment! Those are great questions you ask too – recently our Cluster Growth Coordinator had us reflecting on that question of different soils. She was sharing with us that some soils are full of rocks that need to be removed first before seeds can be planted, or some soils are very dry and need watering first too. I had never thought of this and it really helped me to be more patient in the neighbourhood we are serving in and think “what are the rocks that need removing in order to allow the seeds to grow?”. Wishing you a happy Naw Ruz!

      1. This is indeed a beautiful article. As a person from a rocky and dry land, though not a farmer myself, I have seen plants that thrive on those farms. So one might not need to labor to remove the rocks but choose the right seed to sow. Think of the Sahara. We know many wonderful plants grow there, the sweet dates being one of them. But of course it takes a long time and happens at the right season, emphasizing the need to choose the right time to sow and harvest. Wishing all the friends a glorious Naw-Ruz.

  2. This is beautiful, as a farmer (small-scale), my career being to teach others how to grow food, and as a Baha’i, I appreciated this article. I like the parallels mentioned. We also have to mention that as farmers, there are many challenges that are faced and farmers are sometimes under appreciated or not looked upon in a highly way. It is changing now, but it is still a process. Just like our faith and spreading the seeds of it.

    Thank you!

    1. Wow Cynthia, that is a really beautiful comment. I really agree with what you mentioned about farmers not being looked upon very nicely. ‘Abdu’l-Baha tells us that as farmers we need to be so humble and detached and detached from earthly things. Comparing this attitude to the roles of position and power that society tends to value today, it is easy to see how the work of a farmer/teacher of the Cause could be undervalued. Good thing we only teach for the love of God and to fulfil our spiritual duty! Happy Naw Ruz to you!

  3. I found Haylee’s article very inspiring. I wonder if anyone knows the complete (including page no.) reference for the quotation in the 29 Dec. message of the UHJ.

    1. Hi there Shideh, thank you for your comment. I had a search around for the reference, and I found somewhere that it was supposedly from a recently translated tablet of Baha’u’llah. Apart from that, the only place I have ever seen it is in the 29th December message of the Universal House of Justice. If you do find out please let me know!

  4. Great article Haylee!

    So may we officially request a series of follow up articles to this? There are some worthy questions that would make for great content!

    “1) How do we sow large numbers of seeds, cultivate them, and harvest them systematically? 2) How do we ensure that there are growing numbers of workers on the farm and it is not just one or two farmers trying to do everything? 3) How do we ensure that the farmers are supported to carry out and sustain their work? 4) What is the nature of the crop that we are trying to cultivate and harvest?

    Love and greetings.

  5. “Now you must become heavenly farmers and scatter pure seeds in the prepared soil.”

    For me, I’m at a stage of learning to determine the nature of the soil of my friend’s heart and the preparedness of the soil.

    How can we best know?

    I can set about my farming work by first seeking answers to questions:

    In which land am I? Does it have rocks in it? How many and how heavy or light are these rocks? How dry is it? Is all that is needed is water for this soil? Which seed is to be planted? – there are preparing-type seeds; there is the Seed of the Divine Message.

    I can meet with my new friend a few or many times to learn about her/his land and to determine whether rocks are present that need to be removed first, or whether all that is needed, in the beginning, is life-giving waters to irrigate.

    In this process, I’d be a channel for the life-giving breezes, sunshine, or water to be upon the soil in the form of sincerity of true friendship through significant conversations (according to level of interest, capacity, and readiness).

    This will require of me to follow ‘Abdu’l-Baha’s guidance to get to know my friend’s land/soil for the first three-six months.

    Certain seeds will be planted during this time.

    I feel that I’m not yet clear on the process. I must learn to “see” or ” know” when soil is prepared for seed-planting.

    Any tips on the process?

  6. Great article Haylee as a family of Baha’i farmer’s we see the metaphors first hand. How you treat your soil and respect it is so important. It need to be nourish for it to flourish. When we work new soils that have been abused and mistreated it takes time and effort for our crops to prosper, but its all about knowing the condition of the soil. It exactly how we must teach, we need to know the condition of the listener by first listen to what they are saying and hearing what they are telling us. This process may take time, and a lot of work, standing in the rain, the snow, & the hot sun, of the seeker to be successful. But first we must plant the seeds.

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