Brandon and Sarah Bowers run Bowers Farm in Pomaria, S.C., on land that has been in his family since 1938. Though it’s surrounded by a farming community, Bowers Farm stands out from the rest for its sustainable practices.
By not using antibiotics or chemicals and by raising animals in a way that mimics nature, they not only produce healthy food but, as farmers, pay respect to God’s creation, Brandon said.
Brandon and Sarah, members of Lutheran Church of the Redeemer, Newberry, S.C., met through Lutheran Campus Ministry while they were attending Clemson (S.C.) University. Brandon started the farm they now live on while in college. He grew up around family who farmed and has always enjoyed being around animals. But Sarah, who said she grew up in a quintessential city neighborhood, was initially more hesitant about farm life.
“While I may not have had much initial interest, I always say that I can get on board behind passion, and especially passion that’s rooted in deep faith, and that’s what Brandon had for farming,” she said.
Farm life, she added, has taught her so much about the importance of knowing where food comes from. “All of your food has a story and it’s about finding a way that the story on your plate is one of sustainability and caring for God’s creation—that it’s being raised in an ethical way,” she said.
For Brandon and Sarah, this means giving a good life on their farm to the animals they’ve been entrusted to raise.
Bowers Farm is still relatively small for a family-run operation, with around 20 cows and as many sheep, 10 to 15 goats, a laying hen flock of about 100, and an average of 1,000 meat chickens and 10 to 15 pigs per year.
They move the chickens every day to put them on new grass to forage, and they regularly relocate the other animals in groups to new paddocks to build up pastures. “By basically moving them around and mimicking nature, it creates more grass and more animals can be fed on less acreage, especially when we integrate multispecies, which is common in nature but not on farms,” Brandon said.
“When you put cows, sheep and goats in the same paddock, they all eat a bit of different things, so they work well together. It all starts with grass. We rotate the animals to eat grass, fertilize pastures and move on. It’s healthier for them and allows grass to grow back before they return.”
In addition to giving their livestock ample space and the ability to stay with the herd, the couple believes part of respecting an animal during its life includes taking into account how its natural instincts can play into the life of the farm.
“I like to think about how a pig was created to have a natural shovel on the end of [its] nose,” Sarah said. “They want to root and dig, and we give them space to move through the pasture where they’re able to root.”
Brandon added, “It’s about looking at that from an aspect of how we can make this work for us. Yes, pigs dig holes, but the holes can catch water so the hundreds of little pits they’ve dug can cause a hundred little small ponds that keep water, which keeps our water tables full.”
He sees farming as a stewardship opportunity: “God gave us dominion, but it’s not to dominate animals. It’s to be good stewards of the earth and of the animals—honoring the whole animal.”
This includes using every part of the animal that they can, including tanning hides for rugs or pelts. And if something can’t be used or if an animal happens to die on the farm, it can be added to a compost pile.
“Even when something is lost, it isn’t really lost; it goes back out to nourish creation, nourish our pastures,” Sarah said.
Brandon added, “We can use this life that was given to give life to the rest of the farm.”
While Brandon and Sarah’s first priority is to raise meat for their family, as the farm has grown they’ve been able to sell some of it to local customers—a job they feel honored to do and have had more requests for as the COVID-19 pandemic impacted the commercial agriculture industry and the availability of meat became limited at grocery stores.
“It’s pretty powerful to know someone trusts you enough and wants you to provide food that provides nourishment for their family,” Sarah said.
In addition to providing food for others, the couple said the farm has brought opportunities for them to connect with their community to provide education about sustainable farming practices. Last year, Brandon accepted a job as farm director for Thornwell Home for Children in Clinton, S.C., where Sarah is the volunteer coordinator in her call as a deacon.
“It’s not what I expected, but it has been a blessing to share these sustainable practices and reach more people throughout the state and beyond,” he said.
The couple said their farm has also connected them with the church in several ways. They have hosted youth groups and taught them about some of their animals.
They were also asked to serve on the South Carolina Synod Creation Care Task Force. “It’s been a good group to be a part of and share our insight,” Brandon said. “In so many ways people try to demonize farms and say farming is one of the things that’s causing too much CO2 in the atmosphere. We can say that’s a particular type of farming and talk about buying local or different ways of doing things to cut down.”
And a few years ago the couple gave a tour of their farm for a pastor from an ELCA companion church in Tanzania, which reignited their passion for what they do. “He said he wanted to see an American farm because he’d heard about how big they are with all of these tractors and equipment,” Sarah said. “And then when he came and saw our little farm, his comment was that he could do this where he lives because it’s scalable and replicable.”
Brandon added, “When you find resources or ways of doing things that can translate across all those cultural boundaries, that’s when you know the system is sustainable—because it just makes sense. You could see it connecting for him and that it’s something his community could do to raise healthy food. That kind of lit a fire for me.”