ELKHART, Ind. (Mennonite Mission Network) – When working with a diverse group of volunteers, it can seem impossible to get them to agree on anything. But at Seed to Feed, volunteers agree to set aside their differences to feed 7,200 families.
“I haven’t been able to find anyone who can argue against providing healthy, local food to people who need it,” said Katie Jantzen. She is a Mennonite Voluntary Service participant in Elkhart. Jantzen co-coordinates Church Community Services Seed to Feed program.
Providing fresh food
The initiative began in 2012 and grew out of a need for local, fresh produce in Elkhart County. This matched the local farmers’ passion to provide.
In 2013, Jantzen helped Seed to Feed disperse a total of 150,000 pounds of food to families in Elkhart County. (That’s about 75 tons, or the weight of four large John Deere 7200R tractors.) The harvest includes fruits and vegetables from 10 area gardens and 64,000 pounds of potatoes, and donations from other local farms and gardens. They also received $50,000 in donations from the proceeds of other farmland. This helps to provide the logistical support needed for the initiative.
Creating community is just as important as supplying fresh food, said Kurt Bullard. He has been raising vegetables for 23 years and is a member of the Seed to Feed board.
Men Alive is one of many communities that contribute to Seed to Feed. Launched in January 2014, Men Alive is a program of Church Community Services that seeks to empower men. Each afternoon for 20 weeks, eight men gather. They garden, work in the food warehouse, and learn together about nutrition, cooking, community, and responsibility to their neighbors.
“We aim to help these men become healthy in all areas of their lives: mentally, socially, spiritually, and physically,” said Sean Murphy, program coordinator.
Bridging different perspectives
Jantzen has seen the Elkhart community strengthened as volunteers work together. Democrats, Republicans, church members, businesspeople, farmers, neighbors, students, and food pantry clients have all volunteered. Together, they served a total of 8,000 hours since the initiative began two years ago.
Volunteers bring their different farming and gardening experiences, and so does Jantzen. She grew up among large-scale farms and granaries in Nebraska. At Eastern Mennonite University, Jantzen worked on the campus garden in Harrisonburg, Va. It was there that her passion for creation care flourished.
Even the Seed to Feed leaders have a variety of experiences. Dave Hochstetler, the co-coordinator with Jantzen, brings his business background from his career in the RV business. A pastor, a duck farmer, a livestock auctioneer, and crop farmers give other perspectives on the Seed to Feed leadership board.
Support for Seed to Feed comes from a variety of people and perspectives. But they work together to provide food to hungry people. On March 10, 2014, a local farmer nominated Seed to Feed for a grant from Monsanto, a Fortune 500 seed company. As a result, Seed to Feed received $2,500 from Monsanto.
Seed to Feed has also received a variety of heirloom seed donations, which have been passed down for generations. Although they are known for smaller yields, the seeds are held in high regard because they have fruits with more flavor, and are better adapted to local growing conditions. But no matter who donates their time or money, Seed to Feed is thankful for the support.
Not only has Jantzen’s assignment with Seed to Feed impacted the community, but it’s also affected her own life. “[By caring for both people and creation,] this placement has been a good way for me to live out my own faith,” said Jantzen.
Jantzen’s MVS experience taught her how to live in community and disagree respectfully. While families often share a set of assumptions or similar culture, MVS participants in a unit bring a wide variety of backgrounds. For example, some may expect that the MVS unit will eat together once a week; others assume they will eat together each day. But despite differing expectations, MVSers are committed to living together as a community.
“My two years with MVS have expanded my view on a lot of things. I’ve learned that perspective is incredibly important—knowing my own and understanding that of others. People with different perspectives can wind up with the same end goal … and work together to make Seed to Feed a success,” said Jantzen.
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Mennonite Mission Network, the mission agency of Mennonite Church USA, leads, mobilizes and equips the church to participate in holistic witness to Jesus Christ in a broken world. Media may contact firstname.lastname@example.org.