Around the beginning of May 2013, Breann Bennecker began to see a need. Actually, she was bombarded with a need – hundreds of pounds of produce pouring into the industrial-sized kitchen at G.O.D. Int’l headquarters. When 24-year-old Bennecker was placed in the position of kitchen manager in Fall 2011, her job description did not include managing a suddenly abundant supply of produce. Hopewell Gardens, the 7000 square foot plot of land on G.O.D. Int’l property, began developing in earnest when Seth Davis (36) committed to working in our community garden full-time in January 2011. From January-July of 2012, our garden harvested 458 pounds of produce, but from January-July of 2013, we harvested 2,260 pounds of produce (a 500% increase). With such a dramatic increase in produce came an urgent need to preserve and distribute food to prevent waste. Bennecker lost no time in taking on this task, and it became a large part of her work during the summer months, during which the harvest is most plentiful.
Hopewell Gardens held its first farmer’s market at G.O.D. Int’l headquarters on Saturday, June 24th. This market was open to those involved in G.O.D. Int’l, and sold not just fresh produce, but also pre-made salads and baked goods. Since then, Hopewell Gardens has partnered with local coffee house “Jacob’s Well” in hosting a weekly produce stand in Old Hickory Village. It has also been accepted as a seller at the Donelson Farmer’s Market and will have a booth there weekly through the end of October. The garden has garnered approximately $3000 in produce sales thus far, and is still collecting the summer harvest.
Financial profit has never been the ultimate goal of Hopewell Gardens. The gardens are founded on the conviction to implement the fundamental Biblical principle of working the land. As our land produces, more Biblical truths must be applied, now to the management and distribution of this produce. “One of our priorities is to take care of the widows in our neighborhood. This has helped us to build relationships with many of the women here, and they know to feel free to ask for what they need.” says Bennecker. Care for the needy does not extend only to local widows, but also to those with health problems. “If there is someone in the neighborhood who I know is sick or struggling financially, I’ll make sure they know they have access to produce and they don’t need to pay for it.”
For Bennecker, having to quickly learn how to preserve and distribute food has made her see certain Biblical texts very differently. “Biblically, the Israelites were only allowed to gather enough to supply them for each day. [Knowing this] prevents me from becoming greedy. I know food will spoil, and so I need to give food away before then, cut the prices down, or meet the needs of the families in our community who are struggling.” She has seen firsthand the effect that a fair market exchange can have on social relationships. “In Luke, there is a metaphor of this good measure – pressed down, shaken together, running over – when I distribute, it must be fairly, and with generosity. Give them the fair measurement, give them what they need, don’t skimp.”
This metaphor in Luke goes on to suggest that in the ideal marketplace situation, fair and honest trade becomes the norm because it is founded upon relationship. Bennecker has certainly found this to be true. “When I go to Old Hickory village, I know [the people’s] names, their children, their story, and I become someone who is no longer just another vendor. I want them to have good produce. People see that I care and really value that, more than someone who just wants to sell them something.” For this reason, Hopewell Gardens produce is not sold everywhere, but at select locations where it is possible to manage fair trade and foster good relationships. One of the reasons Hopewell Gardens has chosen to sell at the Donelson Farmer’s Market is that this market has created a system that allows buyers to use EBT food stamps to purchase their food. This enables those who would normally be forced to use food stamps on highly processed fruits and vegetables to have access to fresh, local and organically grown food in abundant varieties, at good prices.
Although just a few years ago Bennecker would have never imagined herself managing the distribution of Hopewell Gardens produce, she sees the importance of the kind of practice that is being established as something that is transferrable to our work in developing countries. “This has brought me closer to the Lord. It helps me to think about how we will distribute to the poor in our regions, and do it fairly, giving the right measure to those who have need. It can be quite the challenge, but it is very rewarding.”