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To Bob Ernst, the basis of everything in life is love and how people use that love to help others. With that in mind, he proposed one question: “How can we show love with a farm, a church and people who may be hungry?”
The answer was to invite members of the Magnolia Cumberland Presbyterian Church and other volunteers to Ernst’s farm where they would work together to raise vegetables for the church’s food pantry. The farm is located on Campbellsville Road near the LaRue-Taylor County line.
Plowshares is split into Ernst’s personal farm (Plowshares Farm) and Ernst’s nonprofit, Plowshares Center for Education and Spirituality. The center hosts several retreats, day programs and other activities that promote the relationship between people and the land.
“Isidore’s Harvest,” the program at Plowshares in which food is given away to those in need, gained the help of the Presbyterian Church about a year ago.
“I was walking out of the pantry one Monday afternoon last year, and I realized that we had hardly any meat to give to these families,” said Fran Dowell, a member of Magnolia Cumberland and volunteer at Plowshares. “I was locking the front door and this pickup truck pulls up with 62 freshly-slaughtered chickens. It was Bob.”
Since then, the relationship between the church and Ernst/Plowshares has flourished. The relationships that have formed among the people involved, however, have been at least equally as satisfying to them. Not only do the volunteers bond over difficult, hot work in Plowshares’ gardens, but they also grow as individuals.
Ernst and another lady who volunteers, LaDean Self, tell a story about the companionship that has been developed so far and the benefits it brings. One day, the workers were preparing to harvest a crop of potatoes, and Ernst said, ‘Let’s go pull some potatoes.’
Self quickly intervened.
“You dig potatoes, you don’t pull them,” Self said as Ernst laughed beside her. “I grew up on a farm, so I just said ‘That’s enough of that nonsense’ and showed him how it should be done.”
The ease with which the volunteers communicate with each other is only one of the benefits to the farm-church relationship. It’s given some a chance to gain friends when it otherwise could have been difficult.
“We moved here from Colorado so finding this church has been a blessing to us,” said Bruce Whittington. He and his wife, Kathy, are volunteers and Magnolia Cumberland members.
“When we first came out to the farm, we saw a lot of people we’d seen but never talked to before. Because we’ve worked together, it’s brought this group together and we’ve developed that camaraderie that’s important. And we’ve made some friends too.”
Even with that friendship and camaraderie, bad days are sure to happen to anyone. Working in the gardens at Plowshares helps some to make those days more manageable.
“I enjoy any kind of hard work, it keeps my mind clear,” said Sharon Aubrey, who usually volunteers every week at Plowshares. “I can put all my frustration into a weed and trust me, there’s plenty of them.”
For others, the opportunity to work at Plowshares, develop friendships and help those in need is exactly what they need.
“Since January, I’ve been out of work and I was just finding little ways to help out,” said Mitch Curry, who also volunteers weekly. “This opportunity came along and I liked working in gardens and I wanted to physically help with something. If nothing else, it kept me from staying at home, staring at the four walls. It’s a really important part of my life.”
To all involved, the food pantry and the work at Plowshares Farm have helped them grow as individuals, friends and community members. To put it simply, Ernst said, “This is a two-way street. We gain as much as we give.”
Ernst’s question of how to show love with the available resources has been answered. And it is continuously answered every Tuesday at Magnolia Cumberland Church. Tuesday is when community members are free to come and receive the food the volunteers grow. A service from the pastor begins at 4:15 p.m. with the food being served at 5 p.m.
Magnolia Cumberland’s program is a success so far, with 328 families being served in the month of June. Community members do not have to provide proof of income to receive food, and they are allowed to return each week, which many food pantries don’t allow.
If you are interested in attending the pantry or have any further questions, please call 324-4968 or 766-8365. If you or a group is interested in volunteering at Plowshares, contact the farm at email@example.com or 270-325-3801.