Caring Responsibly for Plants: Our Duty and Benefit

June 12, 2024
Nikodem Kuznik & Josephine Lee

Dr. Nikodem (Niko)  Kuznik  is a Polish convert and chemist at the Silesian University of Technology who had a blessing to visit The Master’s University (TMU) in the spring semester of 2024. The godly hospitality of TMU’s community helped him to know and become even closer to the Lord and to discuss God's works on earth. Niko is grateful for the gift of exploring the chemical world that has been given to him by God, and this article is a reflection of some of his research from this perspective.

Josephine Lee is a senior at TMU studying communication and interdisciplinary studies. She is thankful to have learned much about God’s creation through the geoscience program at TMU and hopes to pursue environmental science and science communication in the future.  

Sub-Saharan Africa has the highest rates of child mortality in the world. Among these children, malnutrition is a leading cause of death, with a high percentage suffering from zinc deficiency – inadequate intake of an essential element that particularly impacts young children. Our bodies do not have functional reserves for zinc, and thus we depend on external sources to supply the amount necessary. While malnutrition can result from a variety of causes, a logical starting place to turn to in alleviating this problem is agriculture.

Scripture tells us that creation is a beautiful, interdependent system that God divinely crafted, and yet one that is continually groaning from the universal effects of the Fall. Famines, crop shortages, and the depletion of the soil are such consequences. In obeying the creation mandate laid out in Genesis 1:28–29, Christians should be at the forefront of innovating solutions that emulate God’s love and care for His children and His creation. In this article, we shed light on one agricultural development that could help alleviate hunger crises worldwide.  

On the second day of creation, God made the earth to produce all the plants needed to provide life-giving sustenance for man and animal (Genesis 1:11). The soil provides the basic nutrients necessary for plants to grow and bear fruits (for example, grains and vegetables). These nutrients are primarily nitrogen, potassium, and phosphorus. Like all other living creatures, however, plants also need micronutrients — metals such as iron, copper, manganese, and zinc. Just as human beings require the right amounts of vitamins to thrive, plants cannot function properly without these nutrients.  

Before the Fall, it is likely that plants had the right amounts of all the ingredients they needed to grow, but because of the Fall, this Edenic perfection is no longer a reality. In many countries, the soil is depleted of these important nutrients. Even in fertile environments (such as around river valleys) where large reserves of these valuable plant foods are available, constant cultivation over time can drain the soil of nutrients, causing sterilization. As a result, crop yields in such fields are often paltry. Flowers of cereals and vegetables will not be well developed or properly pollinated, while the seeds and fruits may remain small and are easily susceptible to worms and fungal diseases. Fruits will also display various defects like spots, discolored skins, and sour or unripe tastes. They may fall from their source before they are harvested. In short, if we were to survive on such harvests, many of us would go hungry.  

In the past, people dealt with this problem by using nutrient-rich animal excrement to enhance the soil. Guano, and minerals such as gypsum and dolomite, can supplement the missing ingredients or change the acidity of the soil to become more hospitable. Tilled in this way, the land may feed a village or a small town, but it requires a lot of work.

The earth’s large population and the acute hunger experienced in many places requires us to try to cultivate large, healthy crops — often from infertile soil. Interestingly, many types of soil do contain the necessary micronutrients plants need, but they are not available in the appropriate chemical form for plants to use. We could compare this issue to a person with anemia (iron deficiency) who feels weak and tired, but thinks, "I will eat a steel ball," rather than talking to their doctor and changing their diet to increase their iron intake. In the same way, farmers must give plants micronutrients in a form they can consume.  

One safe way to fortify the micronutrient content of the soil is to administer these nutrients in a form bound to organic molecules, forming so-called chelates. The soil can be supplemented with chelates containing the missing micronutrients and natural ingredients (natural in this case refers to those things that occur commonly in nature and are readily taken up by plants). An example of these natural components would be amino acids. These natural substances can help plants absorb micronutrients without polluting the environment – unlike many conventional fertilizers that accumulate in the soil or contaminate groundwaters. If we have a choice, it is worth considering fully biodegradable plant micronutrients with these amino acids, for example, glycine, but without additives like artificial EDTA.  

Because of our limitations in a fallen world, it is no longer possible for us to restore the perfect balance of nature and put an end to the global issues of hunger and malnutrition. In fact, in their search for progress, people have made many mistakes by irreversibly interfering with the delicate balance of God’s creation. Therefore, as our understanding of how the ecosystem functions continues to improve, it is our responsibility to seek the solutions that are most helpful and least detrimental in the long-term.  

Understanding these solutions is key to us not only caring well for our own potted plants and home gardens, but also in supporting those directly involved in agriculture, such as farmers or vegetable sellers. Changing our habits may be more costly; it may require us to give up something. But if we have a biblical responsibility to care for the earth given to us, such actions can become a way in which we express our love for God, our neighbors, and future generations.