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Growing Grace

St. Matthew Lutheran Church (Urbana, IL)

St. Matthew Lutheran Church of Urbana has always felt like part of its mission is to feed the hungry.

The church partnered with Faith in Place to start Sola Gratia farm, a Congregation-Supported Agriculture (CSA) project which grows fresh fruits and vegetables for shareholders of the farm and the surrounding food pantries. This farm, whose name is a reference to Martin Luther’s theological adage “by grace alone” donated thirty percent of its produce to the local food bank last year.

But things weren’t always like this. For both Faith in Place staff and members of the church, it took a creative vision, patience, years of experimentation with farm practices and, of course, lots of grace, to make this project what it is today.

For years the church kept 4 acres of land in conventional agriculture. The church donated the profits from this land to an international hunger aid program.

One afternoon in 2011, Pastor Bob Rasmus and Faith in Place’s Central Illinois Director at the time, Brian Sauder, were conversing about what the church could do to better care for the Earth. Looking out the big window in the corner office and seeing the expansive church property, the vision for this new type of CSA farm was born – Congregation-Supported Agriculture!

People come together to support a farmer by investing in shares at the beginning of the season. Using sustainable methods, the farmer cultivates the land and in return, shareholders receive a box of farm-fresh produce on a regular basis. This model builds community by connecting people to their farmer and the land on which their food was cultivated. All share in the risk and reward of the farm!

With currently up to 120 shareholders, two full-time farmers, countless amazing volunteers, and tons of fresh and local produce being shared and donated to local food pantries, one might think that this idea became a reality overnight. But as often is the case for our Green Teams across the state, tenacity and patience was required to make this vision a reality.

The farm was founded with the vision:

“By grace alone... ...may we share our gifts with the hungry. ...may we be good stewards of the earth. ...may we build a community of cooperation and care.”

With the help of funds raised by Faith in Place, the farm officially started in 2012. It just so happened that Central Illinois was experiencing a historic drought that year, and the first year’s water bill that year was outrageous!

But by grace alone, things started to work. People in the church community were coming together around this cause, helping with planting and building a greenhouse. The harvest poured in and the clients at the food pantries loved it.

The theme of grace fills the vision of Sola Gratia Farm. And it would be an inspirational enough story if it ended there. But there’s more!

Through Faith in Place, Sola Gratia Farm connects with Vernon Park Church of God on the South Side of Chicago on their Congregation-Supported Agriculture ministry. The relationship that has grown between these two racially and culturally diverse faith communities is as bountiful as the vegetables they harvest from the land.

Stay tuned for next week’s post to learn more about the work of Mother Carr’s Farm and Vernon Park Church of God to provide fresh produce to local hunger charities and build community.

Do you want to learn more about this new type of CSA model? Then check out our program page! Faith in Place would love to help your faith community start a Congregation-Supported Agriculture project!

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