By Jamie Shafer
Nestled in the heartland of America, Brandywine Creek Farms is providing much more than food. It’s becoming a source of hope for the hungry, a place of encouragement for at-risk youth, and a training center for military veterans who want to try their hand at farming.
Executive Director Jonathan Lawler in Greenfield, Indiana, said they are a Project 23:22 farm, in reference to Leviticus 23:22, which says, “When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest. Leave them for the poor and the foreigner residing among you. I am the Lord your God.”
This year the farm will grow 500,000 pounds of fresh produce and humanely raised beef and pork and make it available to those in need. Providing fresh food is often a challenge for food pantries, which usually receive canned goods but very little produce. When Jonathan approached Midwest Food Bank and Gleaners Food Bank of Indiana, they were thrilled about a partnership. Jonathan will also be implementing a mobile farmers’ market to go into food deserts (communities that do not have access to grocery stores).
A Farm on Mission
How did it all begin? Jonathan was taking a break from farming and had returned to trucking when his son shared a story that caught his attention. “He saw a child carrying a bag of food out of the school. Jokingly he asked, ‘Are you going to eat all that food?’ He said the kid just looked down. My son felt really bad. He hadn’t realized why the kid was taking the food home. I thought, why is there a kid in Eastern Hancock County taking food home from school? It’s a farming community and we take care of our own.” Jonathan was surprised with the local food need. He started doing research and learned about other farms in the United States that were functioning as farms with a mission.
“I talked to my minister and our director of ministry and picked their brains. I was never in ministry. To be honest, I never wanted it. They said, ‘You have no idea of the amount of people you might be able to reach with this farm.’ My wife was all for it. She has always wanted me to pursue something like this,” said Jonathan.
This year the couple will personally finance the effort, although they are hoping for financial and equipment donations, along with volunteer help.
Growing the Future
Initially the Lawlers weren’t sure exactly what the farming effort would look like. The vision grew in new directions.
As Jonathan was doing research, he had a friend who told him about military veterans who were becoming farmers. Jonathan went to a training designed to help veterans learn more. Although supportive of the idea, Jonathan was concerned that the training was too general to help them succeed. “I thought, if someone goes out and buys 10 or 15 acres and becomes a specialty crop farmer, he will fail. They need mentorship.”
The result was Operation Abundant Harvest. This year Brandywine Creek Farms will host four military veteran interns for the season. They will learn everything from how to service a tractor and keep equipment running to soil management and crop rotation, with the goal of equipping them to start their own season.
In addition to veterans, the farm also welcomes at-risk youth to come experience working on a farm. Jonathan described, “We had one kid visit who had the biggest chip on his shoulder. He didn’t want to do anything. So, I took him to see our 1,400-pound hog.” Jonathan taught him about hogs as they were feeding her. He also mentioned that she could bite harder than a Bengal tiger. The boy suddenly tuned in.
“For the next four hours, I answered questions about every animal. Later he came back and asked about plants. At that moment, I realized a wall came down. He saw the miracle of what farmers do.
“I always say farmers are botanists, mechanics, chemists, meteorologists, laborers, environmentalists, vets, philosophers, welders, optimists, biologists, wildlife experts, irrigation engineers, horticulturists, and nutritionists. The one thing a farmer never is . . . an atheist. A farmer sees the wonder of God’s creation unfold in their fields and pastures every day. That is why God made the farmer—to bless the world, one seed at a time!
“God shows me something new every season in his creation. I want my farm to be God’s farm. If God can use me for that, I’m all for it.”
Learn more about the Lawler’s farm (brandywinecreekfarms.org).
Jamie Shafer is a communications strategist for Fishhook Communications in Indianapolis, Indiana. She and her husband, Eric, have two children.