Brown says the network’s impact goes well beyond feeding hungry people.
“It’s just as much about helping these churches do an asset map of their community, leadership development of those in the congregation and even community organizing. It’s just as much about that as it is about soil, seeds and water,” he says. “It’s not just about the food, but it’s about investing in the capacity of local communities to feed themselves and us putting support and resources behind what they want to do.”
Brown’s church has now adjusted their approach to distributing the food. Rather than giving produce away, they sell it at affordable, fixed prices, even undercutting big-box chain stores.
“People value the food more when they have to pay for it,” Brown says. “Something happens when I put down $2.50 for a bunch of sweet-potato greens. I’m more apt to eat those greens and learn how to cook them as opposed to letting them rot on my kitchen counter.”
Since Maxine’s Garden was founded six years ago, Brown says he has noticed a transformation in the eating habits and overall health of his congregation.
“I’ve seen more and more openness to making dietary adjustments that flow from the church to the home,” Brown says. “There’s something special that happens—I believe this and I’ve experienced it—the closer we get back to the soil and back to the earth.”
This shift in dietary thinking has opened the door for theological and spiritual discussions on topics like consumerism, simplicity and stewardship. A recent eight-week Bible study and cooking class was “wildly successful—I’ve never seen more people in Bible study,” Brown says. The church also offers Zumba and other exercise classes.
When Brown began pastoring at Pleasant Hope nine years ago, he was 28 years old, and he and his wife were “two of the youngest things in the building,” he says. But today, the church is multigenerational, featuring at least one member from every decade dating back to the 1920s. Maxine’s Garden is just one example of Pleasant Hope’s effort to reach all members of the community, including those who are suspicious of or even hostile toward the church.
“When we say, ‘No, you don’t have to believe in order to belong. Come on, connect with us in the garden,’ it disarms, it levels the human playing field and it gives room for the Holy Spirit to work in ways that we can’t force,” Brown says. “We just patiently walk with the Spirit, and the Holy Spirit will tell us, ‘OK, they’re ready now.’ And we just grab them in love.”
For more information, go to BlackChurchFoodSecurity.net.
PLEASANT HOPE BAPTIST CHURCH
Senior Pastor: Heber Brown III
Weekend Attendance: 150