Tag Archives: Living Hope Farm

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.

Franconia Conference and Its Properties

by Conrad Martin, Director of Finance

Did you know that Franconia Mennonite Conference (FMC) owns a shopping center in Souderton and a farm in Harleysville?  Okay technically, FMC doesn’t own any property.  Property ownership belongs to Franconia Mennonite Board of Missions and Charities (FMBMC).  Yes, that organization founded in 1918 to buy church properties for planting churches and to send missionaries to foreign countries still exists.  Its mission has evolved over the years, and while it no longer sends missionaries, it still owns properties.  The missionary-sending component of FMBMC was incorporated into the mission of the conference and its member congregations in the 1990s and the FMBMC board was brought under the authority of the conference board, to function as a captive corporation of FMC.  The purpose of FMBMC these days is to manage real estate on behalf of the conference and support the conference financially, and therefore its “doing business as” name is “FMC Properties”.

FMBMC continues to hold the ownership of a couple of church properties, Whitehall Mennonite Church being one of those churches.  The other church property — the former Peace Mennonite Church in East Greenville, PA — is being used by Project Haven, a ministry from the partnership of a few FMC and Eastern District Conference churches.

FMBMC purchased the Indian Creek Road farm in 1954 and established the Mission of Mercy, a ministry of rehabilitation for alcoholic men.  This continued until 1967 when a mission to those with  intellectual and developmental disabilities was begun on the farm.  This ministry evolved into Indian Creek Haven, which then became Indian Creek Foundation (ICF).  ICF eventually outgrew the farm, and in 2003 it became the birthing grounds for MCC Material Resource Center of Harleysville (MRC).  When MRC outgrew the farm in 2010, the conference decided to make the property a permanent farm.  The development rights for the farm were sold in 2012 and a local Community-Supported Agriculture organization, called Living Hope Farm, was established and began to rent the farm and has continued to grow since then.  As a connection with the past, an ICF group home continues to operate on the farm.  In keeping with its farming heritage, the Indian Creek Road farm has provided a seed bed for the startup of several organizations over the many years of FMBMC ownership.

FMBMC purchased the Souderton Center from a partnership of four Mennonite businessmen.  This group had initially purchased the shopping center property in 1986 to both provide a home for the conference offices, and to support the conference financially.  They renovated the entire center and in 2001 sold the property to FMBMC.  While the conference offices have relocated elsewhere since 2001, the Souderton Center continues to provide financial support to the conference.  When you shop at any one of the businesses of the shopping center — Care & Share Shoppes, Weaver Reckner & Reinhart Dentistry, TriValley Primary Care, ParmaJohn’s, or Ten Thousand Villages — you support the ministries of the Franconia Mennonite Conference.

In 1996, the conference board developed a statement providing rationale for continuing to own property, concluding that “some property is necessary and even advantageous for carrying out the work of the church”.  The statement also ensures that “all decisions about property ownership and the management thereof should reflect the priorities of the church” and that property ownership and use of funds should “reflect the best interests of the congregations of the conference and their mission“.  Keeping property ownership with FMBMC frees the conference board and staff to focus their energies on the mission of the church, leaving property management decisions to the properties board, consisting of persons with experience in property management.

Conference and Living Hope Farm Share Faith through Relationships

by Colin Ingram

LHF 4Franconia Mennonite Conference is known for working with ministries and churches “in engaging the world through witness and relationships” with “Christ as the center of shared and individual vision.” One of the ministries the conference does this with is Living Hope Farm (LHF), a tenant of the conference for the past six years.

The conference acquired the land known as Indian Creek Road Farm in 1955 with the vision of utilizing it for mission work in the community. In the early 2000s, the conference was faced with the possibility of selling the land to housing developers, but instead sought out a tenant that would use the land for ministry and connect to the conference mission of “equipping leaders, to empower others, to embrace God’s mission.”

LHF 1Henry Rosenberger, board chair of Living Hope Farm (LHF), says, “Living Hope Farm grew out of a renewed sense that the ‘earth is the Lord’s.”

Living Hope Farm is a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) farm in Harleysville located off Indian Creek Road. Beyond growing food, the farm seeks community between farmers, CSA members, market buyers, foodbanks, and the underserved. By growing food organically and inviting members to participate, LHF is engaging the world through relationship.

LHF 2According to Sheldon Good, writer of an Intersections article about the newly launched LHF in 2010, the farm is “a chance to rediscover values of corporate faith, local food, and loving community.”

LHF also impartially connects with persons of various financial situations and abilities with its mission to serve the disadvantaged. Donating the first and best of the crops to food banks and low-income programs may not be a face-to-face way to build relationships, but it connects with the conference’s mission of witness by relationship.

Franconia Conference and LHF meet on mission, sprouting with food as the platform, and reaping loving community where people are empowered to follow God.

LHF 5Stop by the Living Hope Farm Indoor Market on Tuesdays and Friday between 2:00 and 7:00 pm or pick up some Fall Ornamentals available daily at the roadside stand from 9:00 am to 7:00 pm.

County approves dev. rights sale for Indian Creek Farm

Montgomery County (Pa.) commissioners approved an agreement for the sale of development rights for Franconia Conference’s Indian Creek Farm last week, pending the results of a land survey.  The sale is based on an amount of $14,024.54 per acre on the preserved land.  The Conference expects to receive approximately $500,000 in total.

The farm, located off Indian Creek Road in Lower Salford Township, Montgomery County is home to Living Hope Farm. The farm operates based on a model of CSA (Community Supported Agriculture), which is a “method of farming that emphasizes safe, locally grown food, supports a local economy, and allows persons to participate in deepening their connection to the land and to each other,” according to Living Hope’s website.  Living Hope Farm is a 501 c-3 non profit led by Jill Landes of Blooming Glen congregation.

The sale of development rights means that the owners of the farm give up their rights to sell the land for development—it will forever remain a working farm no matter who owns it.  The worth of the land is determined by a rating system that considers factors such as the access of the land to the road, soil quality, and suitability for building homes.  The county did an appraisal of the farm in August which evaluated the current value of the farm and the value of the farm if it were to be sold for a housing development.  The price given is based on a formula that includes subtracting the first number from the second.

The sale of development rights is a result of the recommendations included in Franconia Conference’s Vision and Financial Plan from 2007, which called for the proceeds of the sale to be used to pay off the mortgage of the Souderton (Pa.) Shopping Center on Route 113, a property the Conference has owned since 2001.  The recommendations also included a call for the farm to be used for ministry, leading to the establishment of Living Hope Farm in 2010.

Connecting our past to our future: Growing faith and community alongside food

Sheldon C. Good, Salford
shelds3@gmail.com

jill-1.jpgIn 1999, Kenny Chesney sang about why “she thinks my tractor’s sexy.” During the past decade, we’ve expanded Chesney’s claim – because now, farming is sexy.

Country music aside, Facebook, the Obama family, and Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution all contribute to the recent popularity of farming. For many people, life doesn’t involve dirty fingernails, overalls, and an almanac. But for an increasing number, farming is cool again (though some have always thought so). Whether or not one actually digs in the dirt, something about rediscovering the spiritual value of God’s abundant earth stimulates heart, mind, body, and soul.

Years ago, people worked the fields from dusk till dawn. Now the closest many get to dirt is by playing Farmville on Facebook (long ago, we played SimFarm). But Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” campaign is bringing healthy, local food back, with plans to eradicate childhood obesity. She recently described her “mission as first lady” as creating ways for families to make “manageable changes that fit with their schedules, their budgets, and their needs and tastes.”

Like Obama, Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution TV series on ABC documents how a grassroots campaign to curb obesity starts with getting families excited about local farming. Though a classroom of first-graders can’t tell the difference between a tomato and a potato, they can all identify French fries. But days later, after a dose of the food revolution, the six-year olds can all identify an eggplant when they see one.

Part of the reason why our children can’t identify produce is because, over time, farming has become industrialized. As author Bill McKibben says, efficiency and growth have taken over our food system. “Our affluence isolates us ever more,” McKibben says in his book Deep Economy. “What ties are left to cut? We change religions, spouses, towns, professions with ease.” But at Living Hope Farm in Harleysville, Pa., my family is busy putting some of these ties back together.

I was recently led in an exercise to reclaim my personal heritage. I often think about my ancestral lineage in linear terms (birthdates, jobs, etc.) – data I basically memorized as an adolescent for my seemingly irrelevant school projects. However, I don’t usually consider how strands of my ancestral history are woven together, or how they intersect with other people’s strands. So as our country focuses on jobs, jobs, jobs – I too began reflecting on jobs, on the vocational history of my family.

From what I can gather, nearly all of my ancestors were farmers. Up until my grandparents, both sides of my family – whether living in Pennsylvania or Virginia – farmed small plots of land, which supplied them with much of their food and income. But then both of my grandfathers, Emory Good and Marvin Clemmer, traded in their tractors for automobiles and hit the road as businessmen. In 1947, Emory started a plumbing company. And after spending years selling produce and meat in Philadelphia, Marvin switched mid-course to join a direct-selling company. My extended family became successful entrepreneurs at the expense of being grounded in our backyards; we have benefited greatly.
So the generational story goes for many families living among the farmlands of Southeastern Pennsylvania and the Shenandoah Valley. As the “Greatest Generation” (my grandparents) left farming, “Baby Boomers” (my parents) were raised with new vocational possibilities, and Millenials (me) haven’t looked back. Over the years, many of us have enjoyed the benefits of grocery stores, agribusiness, and Sunday afternoon shopping.

Until now.

Farming activists come in all varieties: an ignoramus addict of Facebook’s Farmville game; a twinkle-eyed Obama supporter; a dedicated vegetarian; or something in between. No matter where one lives, this nation is noticeably rediscovering its farming roots. Because after 500 years of rushed technological innovation, people are noticing that we’re standing on what author Bill McKibben calls “the shard ridge between the human past and the posthuman future.” Living Hope Farm is here to help reverse this trend, by growing faith, food, and community.

farm-2.jpgOver the past few months at the farm, a greenhouse and hoop house have both been installed. Jill Landes, the lead farmer, is currently working alongside her full-time interns, planting for an 80-member CSA. In addition, they are also growing for two families in the Bridge of Hope Program and making connections with the Germantown area of Philadelphia. Several regular volunteers have even graciously contributed countless hours to this mission.

Though it certainly exists on Indian Creek Road in Harleysville, Living Hope Farm is more than an earthly phenomenon. The farm is an opportunity for people to put faith into action. Farming can be spiritual. It’s a chance to rediscover values of corporate faith, local food, and loving community. And for many of us, it’s an opportunity to realize what it means to be living testimonies to our ancestral heritage of farming and entrepreneurship.

Ultimately, the best farming (including at Living Hope Farm) shifts our economy – and our relationships – away from hyper-individuality and towards each other. McKibben says this way of living requires us to “reorient your personal compass” and “live with a stronger sense of community in mind.”

There’s interest in growing food, faith, and community, so let’s get involved. May we all consider what it means to reconnect with our food, our families, and our farms.

photos provided by Living Hope Farrn
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