Planting Seeds, Growing Food, and Watching God Work
By Brian Ramsey
Few churches when giving directions for visitors can say, “Turn at the vegetables,” but the congregation at the Maple Grove Church of God in Anderson, Indiana can. Several years ago, Maple Grove was led by God to steward their land, as well as stay on mission as a local church, by benefiting their members and the local community. The church is smaller, yet it is on a property of three acres and, according to Pastor Steve Delisle, “Why mow grass when you can have vegetables?” That vision led to strategic planning and the formation of Bethlehem Farms.
Working under the basic premise that everyone should have an opportunity for healthy food, the church family forged a course of creating a garden on the church property. The beauty of the work is that people, young and old, who have varying gifts, can serve in some way on this project. Perhaps it is a physical picture of the way God has gifted the body of Christ; many members coming together offering a diversity of gifts to achieve a common goal that exalts the Lord, benefits the body of Christ and ministers to the local community and beyond.
The first garden appeared in the summer of 2016. The usual schedule involved people gathering together, gardening for one or two hours and then having a meal to fellowship. There was mixed success that year, and much was gleaned. Children learned about the growth of God’s provisions, how seeds and insects interacted, and how food was created. At the end of the summer, the church became aware that many people did not know how to utilize fresh vegetables, and so the decision was made to turn some of the produce over to a local food pantry.
In 2017 the church took a year off from gardening to reconsider how best to move forward. The following year (2018), they grabbed their tools again and created a manageable system. The people also had a great time fellowshipping during its labors, and the gardens had a good yield. In 2019, Bethlehem farms struggled due to a very cold and rainy spring. By then the church had developed a rhythm whereby they would pick the vegetables on Saturday morning and provide them to the church family, and Tuesday evenings were dedicated to harvesting for the food pantry. The biggest resolution of that season was to transition to urban farming methods instead of trying to tend it like a small garden.
By 2020, the church wisely invested in a system for drip irrigation, as well as using plastic and mulch for weed control. Each season has expanded the work, developed a greater church culture, and extended knowledge and experience. The church has also added decorative gourds and sunflowers to enhance the process, and a beautiful prayer labyrinth was constructed, lined with lavender plants to create an inspirational spot reminding them of God’s creation on display. This year, Bethlehem Farms boasts 32 rows of vegetables that are 40 feet long, plus some raised beds.
Perhaps the most interesting feature of the farm this year is the introduction of three beehives. The idea behind this strategic decision is to help pollinate, provide honey, and help sustain the honeybee population that is shrinking. Pastor Steve’s brother-in-law, an urban beekeeper, encouraged him to add bees and name that part of the farm the “Praise Bees Apiary.” Pastor Delisle, and now others have assumed the role of beekeepers.
Bethlehem in the Scripture means “house of bread,” but it finds its greatest importance as a city, distinguishing itself as the birthplace of “him whose goings forth have been of old” (Matthew 2:6). Bethlehem Farm’s logo matches the meaning in the name, as well, and its missional intent is evident to all; plant seeds, grow food, and watch God work. The picture is implied; plant gospel seeds, walk with others in discipleship and watch God bring forth the harvest.
According to Maple Groves’ shepherd, Bethlehem Farms has impacted the church in several ways. It has provided an opportunity for the people to grow fresh vegetables and learn to eat with a health-consciousness. Secondly, the church family has begun to rethink ministry opportunities. Even smaller churches can create a project that has a significant impact in the lives of its members and those who live around them. People begin to think differently about how to serve. Thirdly, the farm is a great way to feed other people who may not be able to afford healthy food, and as Maple Grove moves forward with their garden, they are constantly thinking about how to get everyone including visitors involved.
Maple Grove and Bethlehem Farms has certainly added a great dimension to the concept of harvest—either way, God will continue to give the increase!
Dr. Brian Ramsey resides in Indianapolis, Indiana, with his wife of thirty-six years, Tammy, who has taught as a Kindergarten teacher at Liberty Christian School in Anderson for over twenty-five years. He has two married children and four grandchildren—all girls, and their wishes have absolutely no extra control over him. He currently works with his son who owns a magazine, and he writes for various entities. He is very involved in his church in the Soul Care Ministry, and he loves to read, watch and play sports, and teach college classes.
Learn more about the Church of God movement at www.JesusIsTheSubject.org.
Feature (top) photo: Picking green beans at Bethlehem Farms.