Articles and photos by Laurie Hallstrom
Laudota Si at the heart of caring for creation
When the papal encyclical Laudato Si, On Care for Our Common Home, was published two years ago it caused quite a stir according to Bishop Robert Gruss. He was the opening speaker for the “Care of Creation,” Social Justice Commission Winter Workshop, held January 28 in Rapid City. The bishop urged everyone to read it prayerfully and to meditate on its passages.
The encyclical has been added to the body of church social teachings. “Many thought the Holy Father should stay out of the environmental dialogue, that has been mostly framed from a political, scientific and an economic standpoint,” said Bishop Gruss. “The encyclical firmly grounds the discussion in a spiritual perspective. It invites others to listen from a religious point of view, particularly with its understanding of creation as a holy and a precious gift from God that is to be revered by all people.”
The bishop reminded participants that in the first chapter of Genesis God breathed life into all creation. “The very life and spirit of God are at the heart of all created things,” he said. “Production and consumption has an inescapable effect on the environment, and from the Holy Father’s perspective, is often times at the expense of the poor, the vulnerable and the marginalized.”
In writing the encyclical Pope Frances drew on his own up bring in Argentina where there was a lot of corporate money being made at the expense of the people. In addition, the pontiff drew on the insights of Bishops’ Conferences from around the globe.
“In some sense we rule over creation, we are called to protect it, and just as the king takes care of the weak and poor in his kingdom, so we too are called to the same dominion,” said Bishop Gruss. “At the heart of this world, the Lord of Life who loves us so much, is always present. If we really believe everyone is created in God’s image and likeness then there should always be an openness to dialogue in the midst of disagreements.”
Bishop Gruss was followed at the podium by Patrick Schmadeke, the assistant Religious Education coordinator at St. Therese the Little Flower Church, Rapid City.
Schmadeke said the encyclical is an ethics based framework inspiring people to examine their relationship to the environment.
He cited the book “Quest for the Living God,” by Elizabeth Johnson, a Catholic theologian, “She said in the first photographs taken from space, our home planet looks like a bright blue marble swirled around with white clouds, floating against a background of endless black space, a precious little spot alone among all the planets, moons and asteroids we have explored to date, covered with a membrane of life.
“Astronauts who have seen this view with their own eyes speak of its power to change their deepest feelings,” Schmadeke said. “Saudi Arabian astronaut Sultan bin Salman Al Saud, part of an international crew recollected ‘The first day from space we all pointed to our own countries, the third day we were pointing to our continents, by the fifth day we were all aware of only one earth.’”
Schmadeke also quoted Astronaut Rusty Schweitzer, who walked on the moon. Schweitzer noted from that vantage point the earth is so small you can block it out with your thumb. “‘Then you realize,’ he mused, ‘that on this beautiful warm blue and white circle is everything that means anything to you. All of nature and history, births and love and then you are changed forever,’” Schmadeke said.
He said the beautiful imagery helps us understand the parable of the Good Samaritan — we are all each other’s neighbors. The imagery also helps in understanding the universe is complexly interconnected and everything is related to everything else in some degree.
British scientist-theologian Arthur Peacocke wrote every atom of iron in our blood’s hemoglobin would not be there if it were not produced in some galactic explosion billions of years ago and eventually condensed to form the iron in the crust of the earth from which we have emerged.
“I wonder how often we think of this, that we are made of stardust. Poetically the book of Genesis observes ‘for you are dust and to dust you shall return.’ This speaks to the finite nature of human existence and to our connection with the earth,” he said.
Getting back to nature — better soil, water and livestock
The big buzzword is sustainability. “We need to quit worrying about sustaining the land and start improving,” it according to Pat Guptill, a speaker at the Social Justice Commission Winter Workshop held Jan. 28 in Rapid City. He was quoting Gabe Brown, a pioneer in soil health from Bismarck, N.D.
Guptill and his wife, Mary Lou, ranch near Quinn. They were married in 1987 and took over the family ranch from her dad. “For us to leave the place for two days was unthinkable. I was so busy working hard I didn’t get to be with my two oldest boys as much as I would have enjoyed,” he said.
In 2013, the 7,000-acre Guptill Ranch received the Leopold Conservation award, which recognizes voluntary conservation. At that time they were only given out in nine states. Other states have added it since then.
“We have run our land pretty poor and the biggest part was not knowing what was right. We are taking too much off the land and not putting anything back, we cannot continue to do that,” he said. Prior to 2000, he cut a section into four pastures and used them 10 days at a time. The grass and the ground did not look healthy.
“I went to a seminar down in Nebraska, with Allan Savory, a world-renowned grazing artist and holistic management teacher. I listened to him. On the way home I called Mary Lou up and I said I have a little project I want to try and you can’t say anything about it for two years or make any judgment,” he said.
Guptill continued, “The first year we did it on 20 acres and there was a big learning curve for us. We made mistakes.” He is now using half of their land for the cattle rotation.
They graze all their cattle, which ranges between 300 and 500 head, in a small plot, which can cover from 8 to 35 acres, surrounded by an electric fence. The greater pasture area has barbed wire fencing in case an animal gets out. They move the cattle by dragging a water tank, mineral feeder and an over-ground water pipe with a four-wheeler to the next area and the cows follow. It takes between 20 and 40 minutes every one or two days.
“We were reaching our goal of keeping ground cover. Good healthy soil has more living organisms in a teaspoon than there are people on earth. We fertilize with dung, 30 minutes after a patty hits the ground it’s covered in dung beetles. Twenty minutes after that you cannot find it. The beetles bury it, putting nitrogen in the soil.
“By 2007, we had organic matter 27 inches deep. Most people have 8-12 inches. We lose very little water; a 4 percent increase in organic matter in our soil will increase the water holding capacity by 60 percent. It’s huge, what we can do with our land if we take care of it, he said.
“We calve in May; that’s as close as we can get to when deer have their babies. You have got to learn to work with nature and cattle are part of nature,” he said.
Guptill said this method could be implemented on any land. So, what are his results? He has almost eliminated using chemicals on the land or in the cattle. Production has increased four times. Calving later is less trouble. They do not have to feed their cattle often in winter so labor hours went down. Before the method change the ranch needed about 1600 gallons of diesel fuel a year, now fuel intake has dropped to 294 gallons, and he has gotten Canadian thistle under control. According to Guptill, the cows are healthier — no pink eye or foot rot. Occasional calf scours are a sign they are not moving them fast enough.
“We changed our lifestyle to have more time to be with our kids. Now, we are not as tied down and we are able to be at all our kids’ activities ” he said.
The three “R”s stand for Reduce-Reuse-Recyle
“I’m old enough to remember the first Earth Day and rivers catching fire in Ohio because they were so polluted. It’s amazing to see what we’ve done as a society to clean up our environment in really just a short period of time,” said Karl Merbach.
Merbach is the Solid Waste Superintendent for Rapid City Solid Waste. He and his retired predecessor, Jerry Wright, spoke in the afternoon. The regional landfill is used by more than 100,000 people in the greater Rapid City area. According to Merbach, each person generates 4.5 to 4.7 pounds of garbage per day. Of that, 1.1 pounds are recycled.
The landfill has an extensive recycling and composting site. The city department sponsors blue curbside recycling bins, recycling drop off points and community education projects.
According to Wright, 30 to 40 percent of the households in Rapid City participate in recycling. The site collects aluminum, steel, glass, newspapers, boxes and plastics, which are baled and shipped out.
In 1992 the state banned yard waste in landfills, it is easy to recycle, annually 17-19 thousand tons of yard waste grass, leaves, and branches are dropped off at city collection sites. “We grind it down for compost and it is sold for use in gardens,” said Merbach.
Wright said, “Rapid City is unique. It is the only facility in the U.S. that takes biosolids, liquid heavy waste out of the biotreatment (sewer) plant combines thems and turns them into compost that can be used in your garden. Composting is the same as nature, when something drops on the ground it rots. It returns to a stable organic matter. It is tested to all current standards for heavy metal, e-coli, etc., and it is perfectly safe.”
“A lot of people have chemicals sitting in their garage. What do you do?” Merbach. A couple of years ago the city hosted a hazardous waste disposal day. “We expected 500 cars and we got 800. It’s not cheap to neutralized the chemicals; this one day event cost $50,000, but it’s the right thing to do to keep it out of our environment.”
The city has partnered with large events to recover glass, plastic and aluminum. It sponsors a spring clean up week, which will be April 17-21, this year. The landfill is free during that time and volunteer groups are encouraged to adopt parts of the city and pick up garbage.
The afternoon also included Kari Donovan, president of the Spearfish/Belle Fourche/ Newell St. Vincent de Paul Conference. She explained how donations to their thrift stores in Spearfish and Box Elder keep useful clothes and household items out of the landfills.