Harvest of Blessings

Our pastor used to say, “Look for the blessing in each day.” He liked to remind the church that God’s goodness is all around, and that God intends us to live joyful, peaceful lives, which is possible when we trust in him.

Some of the most reassuring words in all of Scripture are found in the beloved wisdom attributed to King Solomon: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight” (Proverbs 3:5-6).

It seems that this wisdom is clearly understood by many farmers, whether or not they can quote the Bible passage.

We have enjoyed many a conversation with farmers who seem to be eternally optimistic. They know from experience that you don’t have to look too far on the farm to find a blessing or evidence of God’s favor.

If you don’t find it over here, well, it may be apparent over there. For us, the deep truth of this wisdom is not lost, but sometimes it is covered by weeds.

When our children were very young, we moved out to the “country,” which meant a small parcel just south of the Pennsylvania- Maryland line. It was April, and we were all excited to explore the space of our lush backyard.

The previous owners had left us a surprise. We discovered buried treasure when we first tilled the garden patch. To our delight, small red potatoes appeared in the dirt. They had never been harvested.

That afternoon, our young children filled two 5 gallon buckets with perfect little potatoes, and we were all thrilled. This was the beginning of our adventure in growing food — even though we had nothing to do with growing this food — and in particular our fascination with potatoes was born.

We started to grow potatoes every year, and when we moved to the farm several years later, it became a staple crop.

Since our farm is a nonprofit, dedicated to growing food for people in need, we recognized early on that the spud would be a valuable part of our production.

The potato crop promised good yields per acre. It is easy to store, popular and, best of all, it will wait until we have enough volunteers assembled to harvest.

Twenty years later, we look forward every season to a bumper crop of potatoes. The size and yield vary with the timing and amount of rainfall, but it remains a pretty reliable crop.

We have upgraded our potato harvesting equipment over the years, but we still need many hundreds of hands to pick up all the taters.

It can be quite fun. And we have discovered, too, that the heavy, dirty work of potato harvesting is best accomplished by 14-year-old boys who need community service hours.

Let’s just say we became a tad bit proud of our potato growing prowess.

Weathering a Change

Now it came to pass that this November we were closing in on the end of the harvest season. We had just 6 acres of potatoes left to gather, and the growing season would be complete.

We did not, however, factor in several days of cold rain followed by a record low of 18 degrees.

To our dismay, as we made our way out to the potato field with a host of eager volunteers ready to pick up what our digging equipment unearthed, the cold weather had wreaked havoc on the crop.

Most of the potatoes were frozen and no longer salvageable.

But wait!

That same cold snap had accomplished something amazing in another section of the farm. We observed some deep green coloring in the landscape that was otherwise brown at this point.

There was a small kale field that we had previously figured would just be plowed under because it was so overrun with weeds.

The same frigid temperatures that humbled us in the potato field killed all the weeds that had been choking the kale, and the green kale was now visibly triumphant and calling out to be included in the fall harvest.

Our volunteers regrouped in the kale field, and several hours later we had a beautiful harvest of many hundreds of pounds of green leafy vegetables.

We had found the blessing in the day, and we were filled with joy after all. “Taste and see that the Lord is good” (Psalm 34:8).

Maybe the lesson will stick this time. There is blessing in every day, and it is not too hard to find when your trust is in the Lord.

This post was originally published on Lancaster Farming.

What's in a Name?

When we first embarked on a farm ministry in 1998, it was in response to our pastor’s challenge to live out the call to discipleship.

He said if we want to follow Christ and serve the least among us, we must use the gifts that have been promised to us in connection with our faith.

For us, there wasn’t a strong sense of our spiritual gifts, but we had a strong desire to serve others through the land, with the beauty and richness of God’s creation.

So, the farm ministry was born to provide fresh produce for the hungry, and we summoned the assistance and sweat equity of those in our congregation — especially the youth.

Within a few years, we decided to incorporate as a separate nonprofit. In addition to assembling a board of directors, we had to come up with a name for the corporation.

We labored over this task for more than a little while. Ultimately, we chose a name that we felt could point folks to meaningful application.

We chose the name First Fruits Farm, and we looked forward to opportunities to explain its meaning to our volunteer farmhands.

We knew that the concept of “first fruits” was not easily retrievable to most folks, especially those unfamiliar with the Bible, and we believed this would provide a springboard for conversation about why we grow, harvest and donate fresh food for the hungry in our communities.

Little did we realize that our name almost became a stumbling block to understanding. People had trouble with it.

They didn’t say or remember it correctly. We were confused with other food operations. It became an inside joke when article after article in local print media would get our name wrong — calling us Fresh Fruit Farms, for example.

Once, a local TV station came out to do a story on the ministry and the schools that sent hundreds of students to serve at the farm.

We explained to the reporter that although it may seem obvious to please get the name right, and we’re sorry to belabor the point — because, you see, others have goofed it up — but we are called First Fruits Farm, and there is a reason for it.

This reporter recorded the news story literally standing in front of and with the camera trained on our farm sign, and proceeded to report on the work being done for the hungry at “Fresh Food Farms.”

God’s Bountiful Blessings

The Old Testament of the Bible is full of references, festivals and requirements to make offerings to God.

Some offerings are made as a symbol of repentance from sin. Some are made as a sign of praise and worship. Some offerings are made as a ritual celebration of a season or temple calendar event.

The “first fruits” offering was made as part of the harvest festival, and to signify that any bounty came as a result of God’s goodness and provision, so an offering of the first — the top, most select part — of the harvest should first and foremost be given to honor God in thanksgiving for providing the abundance of the harvest and bringing us to this season of celebration.

We named our nonprofit First Fruits Farm to remind people that all of the gifts that we enjoy, indeed every blessing in our lives, come from Almighty God, the source of everything good.

When we offer the first of the harvest of that blessing back to him, we invite his glory to be revealed through it.

We think of the parable Jesus shared in Luke 12: 16-21: “The ground of a certain rich man yielded an abundant harvest. He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’

“Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain. And I’ll say to myself, you have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy. Eat, drink and be merry.’

“But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’

“This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God.”

We should not try to keep and hold tight God’s blessings for ourselves and for our own pleasure, but instead offer them back to him for his glory to be made manifest as he uses them to bless others.

That is when the harvest is most fruitful for the kingdom and the most meaningful for us.

This article was originally posted on Lancaster Farming.