It has been far too long since I’ve written anything here – not since the summer of 2013. That seems like forever ago, and yet it seems like just a few months or so that I’ve been meaning to put up another post. All of 2014 and 2015 were spent in another assignment as interim pastor of a nearby congregation. Given the facts that growing food to give away still doesn’t pay very well, I still do have bills to pay, and work away from the farm is necessary, it was an ideal opportunity to live and work close by – only 15-20 minutes up the road from the farm.
Even though it was close to the farm, it was more than full-time work. No one even tangentially related to congregational work will need any explanation of the fact that I barely had time to keep the actual farm work going, much less time or energy to write here too. The weekly requirements of sermon writing, Bible study preparation, and newsletter column writing completely absorbed any writing impulses which might have eventually manifest themselves in a blog post. Even if I’d had the impulse, it always felt like a luxury which competed with actual physical work at the farm that always seemed to pile up faster than it got done most days. Weeds don’t stop growing for one to write. As I said early on here on the “What to Expect” page – I’m running a farm, not a blog about a farm.
Since it’s been a while, let me attempt a brief summary of the trajectory of the Healing Springs Acres project just in case you’re joining this program already in progress. Nearly every sentence which follows probably should have been its own three to five paragraph post along the way. Alas…
- The first year we put seeds in the ground and probably our most productive year pound for pound.
- The consulting work I did that year afforded me the most time to devote to tending the farm (which is to say that I wasn’t doing enough consulting work for that to be sustainable and I had to make other commitments of my time in order to have enough money to make life work).
- My primary source of volunteers this first year were from His Laboring Few, a biker ministry in Thomasville, NC. They were also the primary recipient of nearly all the food we grew. They served it fresh in their neighborhood kitchen.
- That first year we planted what would become a fairly standard mix of corn, green beans, okra, squash & zucchini. The squash, zucchini, and okra did the best. The corn and green beans did well too.
- I had time, but not money.
- My first assignment as an interim pastor.
- I spent four days out of seven an hour and a half from the farm and had to seriously amend the crops planted for the year. Since I was away from the farm too much to tend things that need daily attention like okra and green beans, I only planted corn and potatoes – crops for which I could more manageably plan a predictable single harvest day on a tight and somewhat inflexible schedule.
- Enjoyed an influx of volunteers from the church I served, First Baptist in Elkin, NC.
- Received the first major gift to support the work of the farm (a personal gift, not a charitable gift). Those funds provided for the purchase of the trailer that would eventually become my residence at the farm, assisted with initial utilities installations (which were mostly provided by the Skeen family as improvements to their land), and provided bridge funding after I finished the year as interim and sought new work.
- I had money, but not time.
- The toughest year yet. With some funding to tide me over, I quickly realized that only one of the two primary contracts I had counted on for work to support myself was going to come through for the year. I was working with another congregation in what was a difficult interim transition, but was not working fully as their interim pastor. I spent the whole year with getting by money, but not getting-stuff-done money.
- With the remainders of the gift I’d received, I weathered the stark reduction in income and was able to trade my old 1977 VW camper van for a truck. There was also a BBQ smoker thrown in the deal which I was able to use for a few fundraisers for the farm.
- I still managed to plant and harvest corn, green beans, squash & zucchini, okra, and potatoes – and added sweet potatoes. All did well but the potatoes. Neither the Irish potatoes nor the sweet potatoes amounted to anything.
- We did set out the first 200 mushroom logs to begin a cash crop to help cover the costs of what we grow to give away. The crew of volunteers from FBC Elkin was indispensable for that.
- There were still some volunteers from His Laboring Few, and most of the food still went to their kitchen. I was not able to visit their services on Sundays though and the volunteers began to drop off.
- Despite managing to grow food another year, progress on the infrastructure to allow me to move to the farm had ground to a complete stop.
- The summer had been wet to the point of preventing tractor work at critical times and I never caught up with the johnson grass.
- By the end of the summer, I was probably clinically depressed and carried a lot of guilt for having started the year with such a significant gift and having what felt like so little to show for it.
- I had time, but not money.
- I accepted another assignment as an interim pastor as described in the introduction above. I lived in a parsonage owned by the church and, for a while, the urgency of finishing the set-up of the utilities for the trailer at the farm waned.
- This was a full-on, completely involved 60-80 hour a week interim once you threw in meetings, hospital visits, and visitation.
- Fortunately, the congregation was half full of farmers and they understood and appreciated what I was doing at Healing Springs Acres. I had the flexibility to swap a day off in response to the rain, but there still weren’t enough days off. I was constantly behind the curve on fighting weeds and picking beans.
- Unfortunate events at His Laboring Few brought changes to their work. We began taking our food to The Pastor’s Pantry in Lexington, and to Upper Room Ministries in Southmont.
- The youth groups at Jersey Baptist Church and Center Hill Baptist Church became regular volunteers at the farm.
- We had decent crops of green beans, corn, okra, squash, and zucchini.
- This first year of the two year interim pastorate was a year of recovery from 2013 – both financially and emotionally.
- In addition to personal financial recovery, a friend introduced me to a couple who were looking for meaningful ways to give money from a private family foundation. They chose Healing Springs Acres as a recipient. Those funds provided for the tractor we still use, a new barn, and the completion of the set-up of the trailer utilities over about an 18 month period.
- I had money, but not time.
- Healing Springs Acres had its first summer intern! He nearly single handedly won the battle against the johnson grass in our two main fields!
- We lost roughly 80% of our green beans, corn, and pink eyed purple hulled peas to Deer. We had expanded into a third field for the first time and the deer completely wiped out the corn and green beans in that entire field.
- Our best performing crops continued to be green beans, okra, squash, and zucchini.
- We started anther 100 shiitake mushroom logs. The initial work day was staffed by the chainsaw crew from FBC Elkin, and an inoculation crew of friends from Jersey Baptist Church. The rest of the inoculation was completed by a crew of homeschool moms and their kids.
- Towards the end of the year, it was clear the interim assignment was about to draw to a close. Completing the utilities set-up for the trailer became urgent again. The final steps – literally, decks and steps – for inspection to have the power turned on were completed at the end of the year.
- Once the county released the power company to throw the switch, other issues emerged. There was still more plumbing and HVAC work to get those systems running than had yet been clear.
- That’s about the time the rains started…
- I still had money, but not time
- 2016 started very wet. Nearly every weekend I had available to move was soaked with rain. One CAN move in the rain but, all things being equal, it’s better not to if you have the option.
- Fortunately the new pastor at the congregation I had served was buying a house and didn’t need to move into the parsonage. The leadership of the congregation was very gracious and kept encouraging me to take my time and move when it made sense rather than dragging all my stuff back and forth through mud puddles.
- The weekend I was finally set to begin moving all my stuff to the farm, the trailer was broken into. That set me back considerably with the need to make repairs and increase the security of the farm before moving myself and all my meager worldly goods down there.
- After six months of grace after my work at the church finished, I moved to Healing Springs Acres. More about that later…
Every year has brought its own mixture of challenges. Most all of them derive from the essential dilemma of finding the equilibrium between trading time for money. Each scenario which has unfolded in these first six growing seasons has missed the balance point and erred on one side or the other of having enough money to make life work but not having enough left over time to give the farm its due, or having enough time to work the farm, but not enough money to do what needs to be done.
One of the obvious questions folks have asked is, “Why not just go get a steady job close to the farm?” It’s an obvious question, and one I’ve asked several times myself. A major element in the backdrop of all of this has been the fact that since leaving Atlanta, I was deeply invested in the hopes that a ministry consulting group I was involved with would grow into steady work. I was saying no to other possibilities all along the way to keep myself available for that – a posture I held to faithfully for a total of about 6 years. That has turned out to be one of the most financially costly decisions of my life and I have yet to recover. 2013 was the year I could afford it the least, yet doubled down the hardest on that effort. It did not work out. In 2015 I finally washed my hands of what has been my only professional failure and allowed myself to turn fully toward other opportunities.
Since then, I’ve done what would’ve probably been the sensible thing all along. I’ve taken a three quarter time position as Executive Director of a small not-for-profit within about an hour of the farm. I drive to Winston-Salem four days a week to work with a beautiful community of folks there. As I drive, I weigh the balance of trading time for money and ask the only obvious question.
Given what I’ve learned these first 6 years – where does Healing Springs Acres grow from here…?