By Jeff Brumley
Cooperative Baptists in North Carolina are forging a network of church and other faith-based garden and farming ministries in hopes of inspiring more congregations to grow food for those in need.
The farm has been producing thousands of pounds of produce for area feeding ministries since 2011, catching the eye of CBF North Carolina officials who view the operation as a potential incubator for nurturing and creating similar ministries across the state.
The resulting partnership provides nonprofit status administrative aids for Durham and his ministry. In return, CBFNC has gained a community farming expert with proven networking skills to harness a growing, but largely unorganized, garden and farming ministry movement in the Tar Heel state.
“Don, with his expertise … is able to consult with those churches and expand those ministries,” said Larry Hovis, executive coordinator of CBFNC.
That also enables the organization to live more fully into its purpose, Hovis said.
“It helps us to follow the call of Jesus to feed hungry people,” he said.
Serving the ‘hard-living’
Healing Springs Acres is helping others do the same thing, from Durham and the family providing the land to the farm’s volunteers.
For Durham, it all started in 2008 when he experienced a powerful insight that his mission in life is to minister to “the blue-collar culture, the hard-living and survivor kinds of people” in the region of North Carolina where he grew up.
He thought about starting a church, but dismissed that idea. He realized that church for that population “is just one more place to be told you’re not good enough,” Durham said.
“I wanted to be part of creating a community where survivors and hard-living people could feel welcome.”
He struck upon the idea of a farm that could both feed that population and provide them with a means of serving their fellows.
“Helping a neighbor goes over well with them because for them it’s really a survival mechanism. It’s how the fabric of life works,” Durham said.
Healing Springs Acres is on a 70-acre farm, of which 20 acres are cleared and two are being used for growing food. It produced 8,000 pounds of food in 2011, 2,000 pounds the second year and this year is on track to match the first-year totals, Durham said.
About 90 percent of it is given to a biker ministry that operates a daily feeding program nearby. Food is also donated to other ministries as available.
Durham said he hopes his ministry inspires others.
“The solution for Healing Springs Acres is not to get bigger and bigger, but for more and more churches to participate in this kind of ministry,” he said.
A wider impact
Durham’s work at Healing Springs Acres has also been like a calling for the family who owns the land, said Gary Skeen, president of CBF’s Church Benefits Board and a son of the farm’s owner.
The property sat empty the past 35-40 years. Prior to that it had been his grandparents’ home, Skeen said.
Skeen, who shared an office with Durham when the latter had his vision about a farm ministry, consulted the whole family about the idea.
“None of us had the heart to sell the homestead since it’s the family heritage, but we didn’t have any use for it and none of us live near it,” Skeen said.
The family had electricity and water run to the property and added a septic system to help Durham open Healing Springs Acres.
But Skeen said it’s the family who feels it’s been helped.
“Since Don started doing this, the family has gathered on the land two or three times to see what’s going on, and dad has told us stories about living there that he never told us growing up,” he said.
And it’s also a blessing to have their land be a part of the partnership between CBFNC and Durham that could have a wider impact statewide, Skeen said.
‘A real blessing’
But the blessings are also felt by volunteers at the farm, said Chuck Neaves, a deacon at First Baptist Church in nearby Elkin, N.C.
Neaves has been part of crews from First Baptist working at Healing Springs Acres, and the church recently hosted a barbecue fundraiser for the ministry.
Together with a 2-acre “fellowship garden” operated by the church, Neaves said the work has been right up his alley.
“I love working outdoors and I love growing things,” he said.
But at Healing Springs Acres, it has gone way beyond that because faith-based farming offers a sense of fellowship and spirituality to the task.
“It’s just been a real blessing,” he said.