The Plantrician Project Blog

Cultivating Change: The Parable of Four Soils

This is a guest post by Mark Faries, PhD, a faculty member of the 2020 Virtual Int'l Plant Based Nutrition Healthcare Conference, this September 11-14, 2020

A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he scattered the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Some fell on the rocky ground, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and since it had no root, it withered away. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants, so that they yielded no grain. Still other seed fell on good soil. It came up, grew and produced a crop, some multiplying thirty, some sixty, some a hundred times.

A recent home garden project reminded me of this parable. Specifically, I was enlightened to the fact that all the diligent care, planning, patience, pulling weeds, weathering storms and defending against threats, so that a seed could grow becomes futile in bad soil. 

Yet, a butternut squash seed that had serendipitously fallen from the compost barrel into the most awkward place between a small tree and the foundation of the house, was now thriving as a sturdy, lush plant. It had found good soil.

While the parable is for spiritual matters, I could not help but consider the parallel to the science of health behavior change, including the last decade of my own research. The sower is you, the healthcare provider, and the seed is your positive message of healthy lifestyles. At this point, we could analyze from the perspective of the sower, teaching you how to better communicate your message. We could focus on that message itself, the seed, and how it might be framed to optimize change. Both lessons are warranted. However, in this lesson, the attention is on the soil — the soul, heart and mind of the patients who will encounter your message.

In the patient with good soil, your role might simply be to cast the seed, and a healthy lifestyle will flourish. Evidence suggests that too many practitioners refrain from casting the message of healthy eating or active lifestyles, suspecting that the patient will not change anyway. This callous error could miss those with good soil. Yet, I understand the frustration, as this simple parable and personal experience have taught us that so much of the seed is sown on the path, on rocky ground or among the thorns, stifling patients’ intention to change or ability to maintain change.

So, I thought, what if we could cultivate good soil?

Could we till the path trampled and hardened over time by disbelief, past failed attempts, degraded confidence, or unreliable relationships to find the good soil of value, meaning and conviction beneath?

Could we help break apart the impasse of bedrock that prevents the shallow roots of self-regulatory abilities from finding good soil, so that change is not scorched by the early challenges of adopting a healthier lifestyle?

Could we yank out the personal, social and environmental weeds and thorns that suffocate change, allowing the seed to flourish in the good soil that is already present?

I believe we can, or shall I say we must, because if we desire to cultivate change, then we must learn how to cultivate good soil. 


Dr. Faries has a PhD in Behavioral Health and a MS in Exercise Physiology. He is currently an Associate Professor in Behavioral Medicine, and an Extension Health Specialist, providing innovative solutions for the leading health challenges across Texas.

We are excited to have Dr. Faries as a faculty member at this year’s VIRTUAL PBNHC where he will present in greater depth how we might cultivate good soil. Register now to for your opportunity to learn more from Dr. Faries and the other outstanding PBNHC faculty, about the transformative power of whole food, plant-based nutrition.  

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