Sometimes things don’t work out.
The last Friday of this past June, on one of the hottest days of the summer, a handful of volunteers from the First Baptist Church of Elkin, NC helped set out 800 sweet potato slips at Healing Springs Acres. We should have harvested them sometime in the middle of October.
With no irrigation the tender shoots didn’t stand a chance in the heat. Only about 5 of the shoots survived the 12 to 15 scorched days from when they were set out until it finally rained on them. Rabbits and deer ate the few that survived. Rain was steady after it started but the long, hot, dry spell was too much. We didn’t even get enough sweet potatoes for a pie, much less the thousand or so pounds we’d hoped to give away.
You may already have worked out that planting the sweet potatoes on one of the hottest days of summer and not watering them for a week and a half didn’t make for the best chance of a flourishing crop. Well, of course. However, the slips were a free gift. We weren’t in control of when they were given to us and they had to go in the ground within a week. There wasn’t anything else to do. We didn’t yet have water at the farm for irrigation. The rains have been good to us over all, but this time there just wasn’t enough moisture.
Sweet potatoes are generally regarded as a super food, which is actually more of a marketing term than a scientific one. It refers to foods particularly high in nutritional chemicals and other healthful benefits, and with few negative qualities like high fat content. The dual criteria for what we cultivate here at the farm is that it be densely nutritious and have a decent shelf life. Both matter. Some of the folks who end up eating food from Healing Springs Acres don’t get regular, nutritious meals. It’s all the more important then that the meals they do eat are nutritious. The shelf life matters too. We need to have as much time as possible to harvest and distribute food so that it can be used beneficially before spoiling.
Sweet potatoes fit both of our criteria. So it’s even more disappointing that the first sweet potato crop at Healing Springs Acres was a colossal failure. Sometimes things don’t work out.
Anyone who knows me can readily see that I don’t miss many meals. Unfortunately, that’s not true for enough other people. Recently I shared on facebook a newspaper article from a nearby city, Greensboro, NC. That article reported the combined populations of our neighbors in Greensboro, NC and my home town of High Point, NC as 4th in the whole country by a then recent Gallup poll for people who say they don’t have enough money to buy food. Neighboring Winston-Salem, NC was 3rd and Asheville, NC was 7th at the time.
Some reading this will be inclined to wonder what vices those families might be wasting their money on so that they can’t buy food. I have to admit that I wonder too. But, honestly, I don’t care. I can’t figure out a productive way to address complex issues like drug addiction, gambling, or any other expensive vices with a person who is still too hungry to hear an invitation to helpful guidance over the sound of the grumbling in the pit of their stomach – or soul.
I’m not professionally qualified to assess, or fully address, most of the complicated issues that might be contributing factors for someone’s hunger. I’d be willing to bet my motorcycle that the majority of readers here are likewise ill equipped to diagnose from a distance whether or not these families with children “deserve” to be helped. Even if we could make such an assessment, I still don’t care who “deserves” to be offered something to eat if they are hungry.
The article does provide a clue though about what some of these families were spending their money on before they found themselves in need of food. The Executive Director of one agency which provides meals and housing knew some of the people who where calling to ask for help. In her words, “Thing is, many of them had made donations just last year.” Apparently many of those needing help had been providing the same kind of generosity to their neighbors that they now needed from others. They weren’t necessarily wasting their money on vices at all. It may well be that, beyond their control, life just got more expensive than they could afford faster than they could fix the situation.
Sometimes things don’t work out.
Jesus said, “I was hungry and you gave me something to eat.” He didn’t say, “I was hungry and after I passed your needs assessment, you gave me something to eat.”
When I reflect on the 25th chapter of Matthew’s Gospel, I try to keep that in mind. That’s the Chapter where Jesus describes separating the sheep from the goats according to who helps the thirsty, hungry, sick, or those in prison. There’s nothing in that chapter about judging who does or does not deserve assistance. The only mention of judgment in that chapter refers to the judgment of those who don’t even try to help. I’m well enough aware that “helping” doesn’t always actually help. That doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t help our neighbors though. It only means that we should be careful to do it well.
Why are so many of us so quick to assume the worst of anyone who needs help? Perhaps generosity is a better response than suspicion. After all, sometimes things don’t work out.
We’ve had our share of things not working out around Healing Springs Acres. The sweet potato crop was a failure. You may have read about recent vehicular difficulties which impact the farm. Getting electrical power to the farm has been difficult at best. Multiple housing solutions have fallen through at the last minute. Funding has been tenuous.
Sometimes things just don’t work out. Then again, sometimes they do.
Sometimes a spirit of generosity is so contagious that resources multiply into a more plentiful product that the mere sum of their parts. Sometimes a supportive community surrounds possibility and refuses to let it fail to grow to fruition. Sometimes the bountiful economy of God breaks into our own human economies of scarcity in ways that tempt us to claim providential miracles when in truth, as often as not, providential miracles are really just the natural results of faithful people venturing out to be the kinds of neighbors God has called them to be. That’s what has been happening lately at Healing Springs Acres.
Our regular monthly support has grown lately to about $500 a month and seems to be increasing. That comes in gifts that range in size from $10 to a couple hundred a month. We recently got word of a $25,000 contribution. Total fundraising for the coming year with cash and gifts in kind is just under $40,000 – about 25-30% of our first year’s needs including operating expenses and one-time infrastructure investments. I’ve finally located a trailer cheap enough to afford and nice enough for my daughters to visit. We can finally get power for winter construction projects. We have the resources we need for a chicken coop. There’s a fair chance we’ll have our own tractors in place by spring (but, if you’ve got a spare, we’ll still take it…). I got the title issues with The Pickle, my ’77 VW camper bus, worked out. Even Babe the Blue Ox has been running better after a rebuilt carburetor, an oil change, and new plugs and wires.
That’s all true because of an incalculable mixture of unexpected generosity, persistence, serendipity, hard work, and sheer good luck. A generous community of support is growing up around the possibilities represented by Healing Springs Acres.
As I walked out of the post office the other day with a $25,000 check in my pocket, a neighbor stopped and asked if we were going to water the crops next year. I was excited to say that we now have the infrastructure in place to irrigate and we won’t risk losing a whole crop again. He smiled and said, “Good – I want to help pay the water bill!” Thanks to a growing neighborhood of support, we can keep doing our best to be good neighbors to the folks around us for whom things haven’t worked out so well lately.
Sometimes things don’t work out – but, thanks be to God and good neighbors, sometimes they do!
Who is your neighbor?