Imagine the food desert of Baltimore City, a place with convenience stores full of junk food but no supermarkets selling fresh produce. Now imagine a beautiful 203-acre farm in the rolling green countryside of Freeland, about 35 miles north of Central. What could these two places possibly have in common?
In 1998, Rick and Carol Bernstein established First Fruits Farms as a Christian ministry to fight food insecurity by providing fresh, nutritious food for the hungry. The Farm has distributed nearly 25 million pounds of food since it was incorporated as a nonprofit in 2004, most of it in Maryland.
In addition to getting fresh, local produce to food deserts where it’s sorely needed, First Fruits Farms brings together people of all ages and backgrounds to share a time of service and fellowship. Thirty-four members of Central Presbyterian Church were among the roughly 100 volunteers on a Saturday in August. I spoke to six of them—Amy Pantzer, Dan Schulze, Jay Nwachu, and Mairee Pantzer and two of her children, Daniel, 11, and Anna, 9.
Mairee said that she had been wanting to go to First Fruits Farm for a long time. She, Jay, and Amy commented on how they were always looking for service opportunities that are accessible to children. They appreciated how the Farm taught their kids where their food comes from. Dan is an avid gardener who grows vegetables at home and was glad to serve in a way he enjoyed. For Jay, it was a return to his roots, as his grandparents were Nigerian farmers.
First Fruits Farm is welcoming and has wonderful facilities, including an expansive barn. Although the farm is large and there were many volunteers from Central and other churches, First Fruits Farm “works like a well-oiled machine,” as Mairee said. There were jobs for all ages, as well as equipment and guidance on how to do things. Dan commented, “I appreciate the talented and dedicated organizers who have the patience to shepherd” inexperienced volunteers.
The day began with prayer at the pavilion, with around 100 churches represented. Then the volunteers went into the fields to harvest collard greens. Anna said she liked finding just the right greens to pick. The next task was to look for potatoes that a machine had dug. Daniel and Anna were excited whenever they found a new patch of potatoes to put in their buckets. Despite the very hot weather, everyone said they had fun, connecting with Central folks, talking, laughing, catching up, and making new friends. As Amy said, you get to know people differently when you serve together.
The four adults talked about what a meaningful experience they had. Dan felt uplifted seeing lots of people from various churches working together to provide for others. Jay echoed that sentiment and remarked that it was energizing to put his hands and body to work and spiritually enriching to be out in nature. Amy, too, said that it was refreshing to do something with her hands for Christ. Mairee was encouraged by how God had blessed the ministry and found it meaningful to help people get their basic needs met while getting dirt under her fingernails.
The next time Central organizes a trip to First Fruits Farm, volunteer! You won’t regret it.