Courtesy of CNN
Few people have heard of Conetoe, North Carolina (pop. 287). Fewer know how to pronounce it correctly (kuh-NEE-tuh). In Conetoe, however, we can learn much from a pastor and congregation that decided to combine faith and farming to save bodies, minds, and souls. Rev. Richard Joyner, one of thirteen siblings born into a sharecropping family, experienced a moral epiphany when he officiated more than 30 funerals of congregants under 32 years of age in one year. So many of his members died needless, health-related deaths. Joyner lamented, “It just started to feel unconscionable that you would see someone 100 pounds overweight on Sunday and not say anything about it. Then they’d die of a heart attack.” No longer could he ignore the plight of his church members dying because of poor health choices and poor health options.
Conetoe is situated in Edgecombe County, North Carolina. Edgecombe has the highest rate of diabetes of North Carolina’s 100 counties. Conetoe was a food desert. Fresh, affordable produce was hard to come by. Church and community members suffered from high unemployment, obesity, low education, poverty and poor health. Joyner knew that farming could help the people’s health by providing physical exercise and fresh, affordable produce. Joyner had the agricultural know-how, but memories from his sharecropping past stood as a mental barrier he had to overcome.
Farming reminded him of working to benefit the man—farm owners who routinely underpaid and mistreated their workers. Farming reminded him of an endless cycle of poverty, with no personal benefit. Nevertheless, the dismal condition of his members convinced Joyner to overcome his personal concerns. Joyner chose to extend his ministry beyond the pulpit in 2005 by starting the Community Garden and Family Life Center, a summer program to grow nutritious food and get children physically active.
More than ten years later, the two-acre garden has grown to fifteen farm plots around Edgecombe County. Youth work the fields. Elders mentor the youth in farming and academics. The produce from the farm generates income used for school supplies and scholarships to further the youths’ education. Faith and farming are transforming this rural South Carolina community.
Courtesy of Own
Meanwhile, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, a lay person named Will Allen was showing young people how to do urban farming. Allen, also the son of a sharecropper, returned to farming after a successful career in professional basketball and corporate sales and marketing. While living in Belgium, Allen learned intensive farming methods used to increase yields on small plots. Years later, Allen applied that knowledge to create Growing Power, Inc., a non-profit center for urban agriculture training and building community food security systems.
Before creating Growing Power, Inc., Allen was content to simply farm his three-acre plot located on Milwaukee’s north side and provide nutritious food for people living nearby. Things changed, however, when young people in the neighborhood began asking him questions. They sought his advice on growing produce in their gardens. The youths’ eagerness to learn inspired Allen to mentor them. Eventually, Allen created Youth Corps, a year-round youth development program that teaches community food system development and maintenance.
Through his innovative methods of using composting, vermicomposting (using worms to fertilize compost), and aquaponics (growing fish and food plants in a closed system), Allen’s urban farming organization provides intergenerational education, nutrition, and fellowship particularly for low-income and immigrant peoples in the United States and various countries in Africa, Eastern Europe, and Haiti. His three-acre urban farm alone, located six blocks from Milwaukee’s largest public housing complex, feeds 10,000 people.
In an interview, Allen remarked, “I feel that farming is my calling. I think I was meant to do this. To be a farmer you have to have tremendous faith and trust that something good is going to come.”
Joyner and Allen represent a groundswell of clergy and laypersons who are rediscovering the importance of responding to one’s call to work. Work as a calling compels us to discern how our work is our Christian vocation. Faith and work, the two should be mutual partners. Faith should inform work; work should be an extension of faith. Our expression of Christianity should be seen in all we say and do; yet, how often in church do we talk about faith and work? This essay was taken from our 2016 Adult Vacation Bible School, Getting Work Right. Do you need a job? Are you dissatisfied with a job? Do you know how your job fits into God’s eternal plan and purpose? Take our free career self-inventory at gettingworkright.com to start the journey toward getting work right!
“Fresh, affordable produce was hard to come by”