Welcome to our blog series—At the Table: Baptist Fight Hunger!
Part 7 is by Doug Sharp of the Cleveland County Potato Project, a partner ministry of Cooperative Baptist Fellowship North Carolina.
By Doug Sharp
It is easy to get discouraged when you realize that approximately 40 percent of the United States population has an inadequate food supply or a diet that does not include fresh fruits and vegetables. But this picture becomes brighter when you stop for a moment and begin to realize the resources God has provided to us.
For example, over the past four years the Cleveland County Potato Project has produced 400,000 pounds of white and sweet potatoes for needy residents of Cleveland County. Cleveland County is located 30 miles west of Charlotte, N.C., and has approximately 90,000 residents.
When the project was being planned in 2009, the county unemployment rate was 15 percent. Agencies that distributed food were hard-pressed to meet the demand and none of the available food was fresh.
From conversations in a program and a men’s Sunday School Class at First Baptist Church, Shelby, N.C., a plan was developed to grow white and sweet potatoes and give them away. Every person involved in this project is convinced that the project was divinely inspired, both in its creation and execution.
Side note: There are some who will tell you that the leaders of this effort do not have the necessary talent to create such a project without God’s blessings!
So, what we have here is a model that most congregations, associations, businesses, civic clubs, etc., can duplicate. The following is a description of our attempt to lessen the effects of hunger in our county.
We consulted the County Agricultural Agent to determine if potatoes could be grown here, getting an affirmative answer. Next, we asked for advice from a local grower. Then we asked the Director of Missions for the Greater Cleveland County Baptist Association—Charles Reed—if a need existed for fresh food. He confirmed that fresh potatoes would be greatly appreciated by the clients that the association served.
Choosing not to be just a Baptist program, we learned from the Kings Mountain Crisis Ministry, the Salvation Army, and U-CAN (Upper Cleveland Area Needs) that they would welcome the opportunity to distribute fresh potatoes.
The Greater Cleveland County Baptist Association was given a grant from the North Carolina Baptist Hunger Fund to get us underway for our first planting in 2010. The association serves as our fiduciary agent, accepting donations and paying our bills. In each of the past two years, we have received grants from Cooperative Baptist Fellowship.
We are equal opportunity beggars!
Local media publicized our idea and gave us the opportunity to request the use of land, donations, volunteers and equipment. The two newspapers in the county have been very supportive with news bulletins and stories regarding potato growing.
In our first year, we grew 30,000 pounds of potatoes— 10,000 white and 20,000 pounds of sweet potatoes.
In our second year, we grew 84,000 pounds—43,000 white and 41,000 pounds of sweet potatoes.
In our third year, total production grew to 165,000 pounds—84,000 of whites and 81,000 of sweets. So far in 2013, we have produced 71,000 pounds of white potatoes and harvesting of sweet potatoes started in late September. Total production since we began in 2010 is 350,000 pounds.
These production numbers are offered as testimony to what God has done. They are not presented in a boastful manner. We are very pleased that our cost per pound is between 10 cents and 12 cents.
Your organization can develop a local potato—or other vegetable—growing program with the objective of serving one agency or food supplier. You don’t have to produce thousands of pounds per year. You can set your own goals and objectives. Your goal could be as simple as presenting each of your own members with 50 pounds of sweet potatoes at Thanksgiving. Or 40 pounds of white potatoes on July 4th.
Please note that one acre of white potatoes can produce 8,000 to 10,000 pounds and one acre of sweet potatoes can produce 12,0000 to 20,000 pounds. You will need to follow the best agricultural advice to achieve these amounts, but remember, professional help is available. We recommend potatoes due to the fact that they do not require daily attention as would a mixed vegetable garden.
An acre of white potatoes will cost $500 to $700 for seed and fertilizer. The cost for an acre of sweet potatoes will be $700 to $800. Other vegetables such as corn and tomatoes could be grown by local congregations.
You will need appropriate tractors and plows, normally owned by someone in your congregation. An acre of potatoes will require approximately six days of work for 10 people for three hours each day over the course of 100 days. This is an excellent time for fellowship and teaching the next generation about the origin of food.
Please do not accept any belief or suggestion that we can not do anything about hunger or food shortages. We at the Cleveland County Potato Project have been shown that we can do much if we are willing to step out of the pew and into the fields. Sort of a wing tips to brogans movement.
Click here to learn more about the Cleveland County Potato Project.
See additional information below about the state of hunger in Cleveland County, N.C., courtesy of Map the Meal Gap, a project of Feeding America. Check out statistics for your area with this interactive online tool.
Previous posts in this series:
Part 1 — At the Table: Baptists Fight Hunger—A CBFblog series
Part 2 — FBC Winston-Salem feeds bodies and souls with backpack ministry
Part 3 — South Carolina church models missional engagement with God’s Garden
Part 4 — New monastic activist Shane Claiborne spurs rural church to start community garden
Part 5 — How to be missional? Little Rock church hosts Farmers Market
Part 6 — Florida church strives to be presence of Christ and meet needs of their community
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