March 21, 2011
Today we mowed a field just west of the little crossroads of Healing Springs, which is just west of the town of Denton, NC. Yes, I realize that doesn’t really sound like much on the surface, but it brought me to tears. We only mowed about 3 acres and we’ll plant less than that but, it was genesis and redemption all rolled into one.
For decades I’ve had a dream of owning a farm. Over the last couple of years that dream has grown more specifically into a desire and a calling to create a community farm to grow food and give it away through existing ministries which feed people or distribute food.
As is fairly typical, Pearl Jam was blaring from my CD player as I followed the tractor and mower:
Seek my part – devote myself.
My small self, like a book amongst the many on a shelf
Sometimes I know, sometimes I rise…
I wept as I turned into the field knowing that this was it. Sometimes I know, sometimes I rise. After years of thinking, praying, hoping, proclaiming, believing, recruiting, seeking, and planning (honestly, I’ve mostly stumbled with blind determination into more Providence than I even believe in), this was the first tangible existence of Healing Springs Acres. Genesis.
The plan is simple. This year I’ll start small and grow about an acre of produce; corn, green beans, okra, potatoes, squash and maybe some cantaloupe. A local biker ministry, His Laboring Few, serves a noon meal on weekdays in one location and is beginning another meal in a nearby location in the evenings. They will be the initial distribution partner for the food we grow and will, of course, lend a hand when the fields are ripe for harvest.
Most of you who will be reading this know that my personal sense of calling is to minister among a “hard living” population. By their own description, most of the members of His Laboring Few are former “’Outlaws,’ ‘Hells Angels,’ prisoners, prostitutes, pimps, pushers, alcoholics, drug addicts, etc.,” who “are now born-again Christians with a desire to share what Jesus has done for us, with ones who are where we used to be.” You know, the kind of folk Jesus hung out with and picked as his earliest followers. As their name implies, their numbers are not huge. However, as best I’ve been able to observe, they are a hard working bunch and I don’t think I could have found a better group to serve alongside of as work begins at Healing Springs Acres.
The Few, as they are sometimes called, also played a significant role in the decision to move forward now rather than waiting until next spring. I attend worship with them once a month or so and happened to go there yesterday. Entering worship I was still unthawed from a winter of tumultuous uncertainty about the availability of either of two different farms, my personal living arrangements, and the rate of progress of a new business venture. I’m about halfway through the personal transition from a well paying steady paycheck kind of job to self employment as a consultant with churches for capital campaigns, strategic visioning, and conflict resolution and, as a professional coach for not-for-profit leaders and fundraisers. I’m about where I thought I’d be by this point in my transition, which only means I’m not yet fully where I’d like to be.
In February I learned that the farm would be available. However, I had not been in Denton over the winter to build the volunteer relationships I felt like I needed to make a go of things in the spring. After a month’s worth of a thoroughly intense and conflicted gut check I had decided to wait for next spring.By now I should know to expect things like this in church, but I usually don’t. After worship every single announcement was about how much food was needed for the noon meal already being served, not to mention the additional location they were going to open within weeks. I sat there silently warmed with amazement at how specifically each and every announcement had Healing Springs Acres written all over it.
All I could think was how much better off I am, even in my somewhat precarious personal situation, than all the folks whose best option for a nutritious meal more days than not is the one served by His Laboring Few – the one for which I am growing food. The message was clear, how dare I not go forward this spring. Sometimes I know, sometimes I rise…
There are others who’ve been instrumental in making all this happen now too. Without the skill, knowledge and equipment of Percy Snyder of Percy Snyder Farms in Denton, and Bill Wallace, a local produce farmer in Denton, I wouldn’t be able to pull off any of this. Another significant encourager is a high School friend Jon Rigsbee, an agronomist and owner of GrowingGreen, a lawn care company in Kernersville, NC. Jon sees the opportunity to teach his children about where food comes from and how to help others, so he’s offered all sorts of expertise, help, and encouragement. These folks will likely never know how much their encouraging support means as this good work begins. Of course, there’s the Skeen family who has made available a portion of their old home place as the home of Healing Springs Acres. That’s a whole ‘nother story which I’ll tell some other time. For now, I’ll just say Thank You again.My father’s father was a sharecropper. He supported his family by living on and working on other people’s farms for a fractional share of the year’s crop. My dad has said many times that his father probably paid for at least two very nice farms over the years. He just didn’t happen to own either one of them. This is in my blood you might say – even if not in my immediate experience for not having grown up on the farms my family paid for.The farm at Healing Springs Acres is already paid for. My efforts, and the efforts of those who join me, will still go to the benefit of others. The Skeen family has made available a piece of ground on which I can honor my family’s history, they can honor their own family’s history, and, most importantly, we can all respond to the invitation to find Jesus in service to the least of these among us – who, of course, really aren’t the least of us at all in Jesus’ eyes.
Redemption – Praise be to God – sweet redemption.