Stewarding the Earth, Caring for Community

By Alex Smith, Production Manager at Living Hope Farm

I came to Living Hope Farm in Harleysville, PA several years ago, excited for the opportunity to help manage a community-oriented organic vegetable farm. What I found when I arrived was a productive farm and a whole lot more. Living Hope is a farm with a mission – to help build a community that is more firmly rooted in the land, and foster stewardship and care for the Earth. We feed local people, offer opportunities for folks to learn and connect with the place where their food is grown, and work to train the next generation of farmers. In times when it seems like people are growing disconnected from the land and from one another, I am thankful to work for an organization that is striving to rebuild those connections.

Living Hope is a working farm, first and foremost, and our social mission hinges on being able to grow ample, high-quality produce. I’m proud to say that in the summer 2017 season we grew and distributed more than 60,000 pounds of fresh vegetables and fruits, along with pasture-raised eggs, chicken and turkeys. We distribute our produce at farmers’ markets and through food pantries, but our main focus is on our community supported agriculture (CSA) program.  CSA members sign up for a season’s worth of produce, and  each week they order six to ten items from the selection of veggies and fruits we have to offer at that time. For our paying members, this is a chance to get local, organically grown vegetables through the season at a good price, and it gives them the confidence that comes from knowing where and how their food is grown. In addition to paying members, we also offer work shares and subsidized shares to folks in the community. Our work shares go to folks who are willing to put in a weekly work shift in exchange for their box of fresh veggies from the farm. Our subsidized shares go to families with children who may not have the funds for a share but could really use some nutritious food.

Good stewardship of the Earth is an essential part of my job as a farmer, and everyone’s work here at Living Hope. In order to hold ourselves to the highest standards, we take part in the Certified Naturally Grown program, which carries all the same requirements as USDA Certified Organic but with an additional emphasis on building a biologically diverse farm ecosystem. Like a natural environment, our farm relies on cycles that sustain one another. For example, after the vegetables are harvested, we bring in our poultry to forage on the plants and insects that remain in the field. The birds get food and exercise and help future crops by eating pests and fertilizing the soil. This kind of farming sometimes takes extra effort and coordination, but for me it brings the special satisfaction that comes with taking proper care of our place.

I also find it satisfying to be able to share our farm with others. We welcome many visitors to Living Hope, including school and church groups, corporate volunteer groups, volunteers with special needs, and individuals who just want to lend a hand! Many of these folks say that they find their time on the farm healing and therapeutic, which helps to assure me that we are maintaining a healthy, positive place. We also share our work on the farm with the interns who commit themselves for a season (or sometimes more) to learn sustainable farming. A number of these folks have gone on to start farms of their own, and we hope all of them will continue our mission of growing healthy relationships with the land in one way or another. In addition, we look forward to connecting with a new community this summer as we begin bringing our produce to the Oxford Circle Farmers’ Market, an inner-city Philadelphia market hosted by the Oxford Circle Mennonite Church.

As we move forward, we continuously re-commit ourselves to our mission and seek to build on our strengths, including one of our most constructive and helpful initiatives to date: our sponsored CSA share program called “Farm to Family”. This program advances our social mission in many ways at once – it provides good food to families in need, but also gives them a chance to build a relationship with a local farm. Some of our sponsored share members have transitioned into being work shares, so that they could spend more time on the farm and give something back, but there are always more families in need. My hope as we grow into the future is that we can provide more families in need with produce and a personal connection to the land.

Living Hope Farm is a Conference Related Ministry of Franconia Conference.