After a deep winter’s hibernation spring has awoken me. The second season of planting at Healing Springs Acres has begun. A few weeks ago we planted 2,100 feet of potatoes in 7 rows 300 feet long. That’s not the royal “We.” I enjoyed the help of a Baptist Men’s crew from First Baptist Church of Elkin, NC. More about that in a minute…We’ve got a little over 500 pounds of red potatoes, white potatoes, and yellow potatoes in the ground. One variety, Yukon Gold, is reputed to be so succulent that they taste like they already have butter on them right out of the ground.
Depending on whose estimate you listen to, and depending on moisture – always depending on moisture – that 500 pounds should grow into somewhere between 4 and 6 thousand pounds of potatoes by harvest. Let’s hope for 5 and see what happens. Either way – that’s a lot of potatoes.
The kitchen that serves and/or preserves our produce probably can’t use that many potatoes. What they can do though is use them like a kind of currency. They are good at trading with other local feeding ministries when they have an abundance of any single item like potatoes. There always seems to be another ministry which needs what they have. Neighbors often help by trading. One of the things I like about working with His Laboring Few is that they are good neighbors.
Healing Springs Acres had a successful first season. We experimented with a small start to test our volunteer base and our food distribution relationships. Over 50 people were involved in one way or another in our first year – from prepping the land, to providing seed and fertilizer, planting, hoeing and cultivating, providing tools and materials, gathering and transporting produce, cooking the food fresh daily, preserving what couldn’t be cooked, and helping families who needed something to eat find their way out to the farm to pick their own.
The number of volunteers on any given day ranged from up to 23 all the way down to 1 other person (THANKS Joe!). Over 85% of our volunteer labor came through our relationship with His Laboring Few, a biker ministry in Thomasville, NC which also serves a meal each weekday and serves as our primary distribution channel for the food we grow. Other volunteers came from my family, and from First Baptist Church, Denton.
In addition to a successful beginning with volunteers and food distribution, we had a productive harvest! From only 1.25 acres we harvested:
3 pick-up truck loads of corn
65 bushels of green beans
75 bushels of zucchini and squash
85 gallons of okra – yes, I know you don’t count okra by the gallon, but we were picking it in 5 gallon buckets, so it’s easier to count that way…
That’s approximately 8,600 pounds of food. A neighboring local farmer who has observed that land for over 60 years said it was the most productive he’d ever seen it. Some of our volunteers were quick to observe that they were sure this farm had been prayed over more than any other patch of ground anywhere close by. I’m sure the prayer didn’t hurt the lush yield. Neither did the 500 pounds of left-over fertilizer a neighbor spread before we planted last year.
The second season’s potato crop will be rounded out with corn planted by the end of May. We should get a little more than twice as much corn as last year. Astute observers will notice that there is less variety in this year’s crops. Time is the culprit.
Since the first Sunday in September of last year I have been serving as interim pastor of The First Baptist Church in Elkin, NC. Thus, the crew of volunteers from there. One of the things that drew me to them, and them to me, when we first discussed my service as their interim pastor was their “Fellowship Garden.” They have essentially the same purpose as Healing Springs Acres, they grow food to give away through local feeding ministries in the Yadkin Valley. I’ve enjoyed working in their garden and, being the good sort of neighborly folk they are, they wanted to come down to Healing Springs to return the favor. That’s what neighbors used to call “swapping work.” They came with hoes, able bodies, and a few hundred pounds of potatoes to plant – including the succulent Yukon Gold variety. Did I mention they are reputed to taste like butter right out of the ground…?
Serving as their pastor has been one of the most meaningful experiences of my life. I cannot imagine a better congregation with which to have first waded into the waters of congregational ministry. They are a brave, persistent, faithful, and sophisticated congregation with a delicious mixture of traditionalism and progressivism. I have spent 20 years in ministry in institutions which serve the Church and have served as a resource to congregations in a variety of ways, but I am essentially a beginner pastor. They have been a wonderfully forgiving congregation in which to make rookie mistakes and learn my first lessons of loving a congregation and leading among them.
I took the job as another way of funding my life in what I have been determined to make a “tent-making” endeavor, working as Paul did to support myself in ministry as I start and support the farm. While I hoped the position as interim would serve as an aid to the work on the farm by meeting my financial needs, it has actually served to sharpen the focus on the basic dilemma of the tent-making model. Given the kinds of work which are available to me I can either have enough time to work on the farm or enough money to support myself, but not enough of both to meet my family responsibilities AND support the growth of this ministry.
I would not trade the experience I gained from serving the Church in Elkin this past year for anything, but it has distracted me from the farm four days a week and has required me to plant a less than an ideal mix of crops. As I mentioned, I’ve limited myself to only corn and potatoes this year. I can’t be at the farm regularly enough to tend beans, okra, squash and other produce that requires daily attention once it comes in.
I am thrilled to be entering our second season. I’m also a little frustrated and disappointed. The crop mix should be more diverse, and we should be tending three acres instead of the same one acre we experimented with last year. Healing Springs Acres can be and do more.
As my time as interim pastor concludes, I will need to change from the tent-making model of support to another model better suited to allowing Healing Springs Acres to grow into the ministry that it can and should be.
I’ll need a community of neighbors, near and far, to help with that. More to come soon about how to be a neighbor…