I am back where it all began – my farming journey, that is - in the place where I first discovered that my love for people was best expressed through caring for the land. I am in Jinotepe, Nicaragua, with my brother. Fourteen years ago, I traveled to an orphanage in this town and went horseback riding. I also participated in a mission trip in the surrounding area. Little did I know that all of these years later I would be back in this place where it all began, assisting WEGO (Worldwide Evangelical Global Outreach) with its 30 acre farm/property, which houses a school, feeding program, and community center.
I truly feel like everything has come full circle after working in a different rural area of Nicaragua with coffee farmers for the past 8 years. I became a farmer to help the poor. I sought to learn to do what they do. I never thought that what I have learned during these years would have given me the lens that I have now.
It is not just about growing everything and being awesome. It is about finding a niche, knowing your place and climate, finding the gaps and missing pieces, and filling it with life. It is not about raising fruit, cattle, chickens, beans, rice, mangos, and coffee. It is about creatively serving a need, inspiring creativity, creating vocations, and helping others to discover their God-given potential.
A former children’s home, Hogar de Gloria, sits on a 30-acre property/farm and now houses a secondary school and feeding program run by WEGO. This nonprofit has been operating since 1994 and is now run by my brother. El Centro, as the school is currently called, has 63 students and 8 teachers, and is also the home of the feeding program, feeding 190 children per day. Over 280 meals are fed out of the same kitchen daily during the week.
I spent my time last week working with the farm manager, one of his workers, security guards, maintenance workers, and also at one of the surrounding neighbor’s property. I made maps, identified flora and fauna, and taught for hours on ethics and farm design. We also talked about principles for earthen stove design and made some test cobb (stove building ingredients).
On the farm there are currently a few cows, 2 horses, mangos, bananas, avocados, and a few varieties of citrus. The farm has potential for some serious food production, yet it’s not in great shape and will require a lot of work.
The birth of Keipos and the ensuing 8 years of learning and hard work have prepared me for such a time as this. This past week I felt alive and I was doing what I was created to do, sharing with those who need it most in the poor and destitute rural Nicaraguan community. I hope that El Centro will become a beginning place again where Keipos can help other ministries soar with success through meeting the most basic needs for human survival and abundance - from our heart, in the city, and to the world.
This is why Keipos began, to encourage the healing of people and place through food, farming & education.
Fresh air. Clean water.
Living soils, thriving trees, animals, and community.
Adaptive and entrepreneurial marketplace.
Energy harnessing infrastructure.
Biblically based framework and apprenticeship.
This is why we have built our farm the way we have, a place for others to come and learn about food, farming, natural building, appropriate technology, animals, trees, water, community, and so much more!
Our hope is that Keipos can be a bridge and tool for connecting people vertically, horizontally, and futuristically.
A sprout is full of vigor and life. All of its life, DNA, and energy supply burst forth in water and darkness. All of the fertility a sprout needs is the scent of water. It does not need fertilizer, for it contains all necessary nutrients within the seed to begin its life. It starts with fragile, deep green leaves, the cotyledons. Tender and fresh, it begins to push forth first true leaves and an ultimate pattern.
The sprout is sensitive to temperature, moisture, light, and disturbance, yet full of nutrient density and tender taste, susceptible to all outside influences and threats. It rejoices in life yet can be destroyed in an instant. Desired by all, it is succulent, delicate, and decadent, unable to survive life on its own without a community working with and for it.
A deep-rooted biological community is needed for rich growth. The sprout needs soil and soil life to thrive. Its nutrients become depleted as the seed comes to life, and in turn becomes dependent upon its roots to grow deep, extending downward and outward.
A sprout is mysterious, exciting, fragile, and bursting with energy. But without community life and soil depth it will yellow and fade.
A sprout is the beginning of life, yet only through a diverse economy of soil life will it thrive and become a tree where many find shade, enjoy the bounty of its fruit, and bask in awe at the beauty of its life and splendor.
A sprout rooted in soil plus water gives way to photosynthesis and continued growth. The end of the seed is only the beginning, bearing way to new life for generations to come. A sprout seems to be independent, yet its life is dependent upon the generations that have come before it and the present community to hold its fecundity.
The sprout experiences its creation, but soon comes to learn of the world’s dangers; it begins to sink its roots deep, withstanding the many outside influences seeking to destroy it. Only the sprout that endures to the end will bear fruit, sprouts yet to come. The glory of a sprout is accepting its end, which, in turn, yields seed for generations to come.
In life there are no guarantees, no safe risks, and no foolproof successes. Yet there is hope; at the scent of water a stump will sprout again. The sprout of something new that gives hope for a life that will endure beyond our fleeting present.
Invisible made visible, like carbon from air into a plant, the sprout of Christmas, joyful, hopeful, yet humble, in a livestock trough, eternal life giving into a world that will sprout again.
I (Jonathan) want to tell you a story. I have no pictures, not even a name to give, but I want to tell you about one individual, ‘E’, at the Patrick J. Thomas Juvenile Justice Center (JJC).
There are 3 unique areas at the JJC. First, there is the SCEP school (Sarpy County Education Program) for juveniles expelled from school. It is a last resort for teens who can’t be in regular school and is run by our local school district. Second, there is the Day Reporting Center (DRC) for juveniles who are suspended from school, a place for court-ordered help for schoolwork, and probation. Lastly, there is Holdover, where the real juvenile offenders are placed. Teens in Holdover have been there for up to 4 months. Many are awaiting their court date or placement in a home for boys or girls. Offenses from these teens range from armed robbery to auto theft to violent offenses.
Holdover is where I first met ‘E’, who has been locked up for 4 months. When we first encountered ‘E’ he was constantly getting in fights, calling others names, and being very disrespectful to the guards.
For the first few months we mostly taught and discussed soil and regenerative agricultural
design principles. (They always want to talk about mushrooms, lol) As the harvest season
drew to a close, we began focusing our energy in the kitchen, bringing the food from the
gardens and making nutritious meals alongside the Holdover teens. The most incredible thing
is that the detainees’ engagement went from less than 50% to 100% instantly!
For the past month, we have been talking with the youth about what it means to be forgiven, forgiving, and free, using curriculum from a local ministry called Fresh Start. We are focused on seeing hearts healed and restored. At first, ‘E’ said, “Farmer Jon! What is this? You were teaching us about farming, now you are talking about God?” Life is all about relationship, both vertical and horizontal. ‘E’ thought I was crazy; he told me so, more than once. But after months of investing in relationship, where is ‘E’ now? He is on the honor roll and ready to be placed in a home for boys, only a week away from being released. He has also recommitted his life to Jesus and is reading The Purpose Driven Life by Rick Warren.
So many in the JJC have been impacted by the work of Keipos, including students, detainees, and guards. Truthfully, I am the one that has been impacted the most. I am thankful to meet people like ‘E’ who make it all worth it, reminding me, “It is never too late for a fresh start!”
After 7 months of preparing the land, planting seeds and crops, hoeing and pulling weeds for too many hours to count, raising animals, and harvesting food since June, we welcomed others to share in the abundance of the table, food, fellowship, and stories of impacted lives throughout the season.
It has been two weeks since our fall fundraiser dinner, and we have so many people to thank for making October 3rd a night of celebration and helping us to raise $8,000!
Grateful hearts gathered; hope dispersed. We look forward to what is yet to come.
“For there is hope for a tree,
if it be cut down, that it will sprout again,
and that its shoots will not cease.
Though its roots grow old in the earth,
and its stump die in the soil,
yet at the scent of water it will bud and put out branches like a young plant.”
I have always loved this verse from the book of Job. I know that I am not a tree; however, it gives me hope that no matter how bad things get there is always hope for new life and new opportunities for growth and fruit. Over the past few months, we have experienced a whirlwind on the farm and in our lives.
On June 16th, our community met the first of few storms that wrecked havoc. With straight-line winds of over 80 mph, we not only lost power for 4 days, we had major tree damage losing giant walnuts, honey locusts, pines, cherries, peaches, apples, and oaks. We had roof damage, a collapsed awning, vehicle damage, and five crushed fence lines. In wasn’t just at the farm, it was our whole community. In fact, our mayor declared a state of emergency. Power lines were buckled down over roads for miles in multiple directions. When the storm hit, Catherine and I were stuck under one of the few power lines that actually did NOT snap in half (this is a whole other story about God’s goodness and graciousness to us that day). Throughout our community, roofs were ripped off houses, barns collapsed, and grain silos thrown like rag dolls across open fields.
Between that storm, two hailstorms, and a plague of Japanese beetles we lost all the fruit from our trees. The damage has exceeded well over $15,000, without an insurance claim to make (no crop insurance).
But then, beauty came. The stress and trauma transformed into new relationships. Friends and supporters came to our aid with gasoline for the generator, chainsaws to help with damage cleanup, and a few extra meals. We made new friends with some of our neighbors. Although we lost a bunch, we gained a whole lot more. For example, one of our neighbors lost the roof to his barn, some of which landed in our field. His barn damage was so bad that his insurance company considered it a total loss. Our neighbor then, in turn, gave us the whole structure if we would tear it down. And that is just what we did! For an entire week, we tore down his 40’X60’ barn and salvaged tin, lumber, and hardware. The curse of the storm turned into a huge blessing! With the materials we acquired, we will be able to build needed infrastructure on the farm, including a tool shed, barn addition, outdoor kitchen awning, chicken tractors, and who knows what else.
It wasn’t just trees down on the farm, trees came smashing down all over our county. Most the debris from the city went to one location, which then got shredded and chipped by a landscaping contract company. Graciously, Keipos was given a few hundred yards of those wood chips to help mulch our 5 garden sites in Papillion!!! Through destruction came beauty, in the form of resources and relationships!
Immediately after the storm ripped through, a bright rainbow appeared, stretching across the sky and over the devastation all around us. At that moment, all I could think and say was “f---” the rainbow, look at all this chaos and devastation! But really we just need to “find” the rainbow, and all the beauty that it promises. Our plans rarely work out how we have them planned in our heads. If we don’t remain humble, we will be humbled. And if we think we are already humble, we will be humbled some more. LOL. I am not grateful for the storm and the loss that it caused; however, I am grateful for the new life and direction that it brought. At the scent of water, we can sprout again…
I met Mariah, one of the new interns, the other morning. While she was helping Catherine in the kitchen, I had a chance to ask her how she was liking the internship so far and she said she was loving it! She googled her way to Keipos by searching ‘permaculture’. She loves food (like, a lot!) and wanted to figure out ways to merge that love with design. Mariah studies design at Columbus College of Art & Design in Ohio, so you can see where she got this design + food idea! Many other internship opportunities were presented to her, but she decided to come home to Omaha for the summer and work on the farm instead.
When I asked her what she has learned so far, she said she’s learning just how much her body can take. “Some days,” she said, “you feel so defeated and broken.” In her personal blog, she states that “farming is abuse”. Yet she loves this type of work - she feels challenged and is doing something important, something larger than herself. It feeds her soul.
One of the hardest things for Mariah so far has been learning that she can’t be good at everything. She has always been a hard worker, but on the farm one has to have certain skills to perform certain tasks. It’s hard not being physically strong and feeling like she sometimes get in the way of others but she thinks her confidence (and strength!) will grow over the internship. One of the most fulfilling things for her is knowing that she is a part of the process that brings food to people’s tables. She feels a call to grow food for others and she is fulfilling that dream (short term) this summer and couldn’t be happier about it!
Mariah is only ⅓ of the way through the internship but is already dreaming about how to use the information she is learning on the farm. Hoping to use her design skills, she wants to make products that correspond directly with the best farming practices. She would like to do that either directly with farming equipment or more on the consumer side, with products and appliances helping people in the post-harvest areas of cooking and preservation. She is really interested in the new vertical farming craze going on all over the world - mostly because it’s not organic! These systems don’t use soil (along with other requirements that make it organic) but otherwise, it’s a great idea for growing food and feeding the world. Mariah has dreams of designing a system of sustainable agriculture that can be urbanized. Farmer Jon once said that all of Omaha could be fed with the abandoned lots around the city, and that inspired her!
It’s clear that Mariah is a hard worker inspired by the environment around her. The internship has already taught her so much in 4 short weeks...I can’t wait to get to know her more around the farm and through Keipos events.
Our next blog post is about a guy named Daniel. He came to know about Keipos through some friends and decided to check it out, leading him to apply and be accepted into the Keipos internship program last fall. Before coming to Keipos, Daniel had some farming experience, already working for a father and son commercial farm, so he knew a bit about sustainable agriculture and soil building but says his time on the farm taught him even more.
“Living in Nebraska, you are surrounded by agriculture and farming,” says Daniel, “but driving past a field and working it are two different things.” Getting the hands-on experience at Keipos changed how he saw soil management. He was energized upon hearing how communities had taken desert land and turned it into fertile farming land, and that he could learn to do that himself with the help of the education he received as part of the internship. Working with Keipos gave Daniel a new appreciation for biodiversity and maintaining complex ecosystems.
Daniel told me that having both the experience at the commercial farm and the “grass roots” farm at Keipos helped him realize why environmental protections are vital. He continues to be interested in agriculture and is even starting his own garden this year. The internship program is just one facet of what Keipos does, being a part of the transformation of students’ lives through their learning and work on the farm. After 12 weeks of education and training, the students walk away with a firm grasp on sustainable farming practices as well a certificate in Permaculture Design grounded in a biblical foundation. The 5 interns, like Daniel, this summer are just 5 of the lives you affect for good when you give to Keipos!
We would now like to introduce you to Sam Stevens! I have personally known Sam since he was 10 or 11 and helped in our toddler room at church on Sunday mornings at Westside Church. He was good friends with one of my younger brothers and in a lot of ways felt like another younger brother to me. He is currently in Guatemala as a missionary and has used many skills there gained by both volunteering and working for Keipos.
Sam has told me that he learned how to take care of animals, weed, harvest, build things on the farm, etc. He learned not only how to take care of those things but also learned what a permaculture cycle looks like, how to design with permaculture principles, and how to watch the nature of the cycle to maintain and improve on it. He has taken that knowledge with him to Guatemala. There he has planted a garden on some land owned by the local church. They plan on using the garden for teaching as well as for raising animals. He also planted a small personal garden off his patio.
Sam has shared with me that his training and time with Keipos not only gave him valuable agricultural and farming skills, but helped him to solidify a strong work ethic and a deep respect for the land. He has learned how to work with nature to identify problems and keep them from recurring. This is exactly what Keipos is all about - training up people to use agriculture to positively impact their home, city, and the world. Sam is doing just that in Guatemala! When you support Keipos, you support students like Sam. I am sure the impact of his time at the farm and with the Dodds will be felt and visualized for years to come. If you would like to learn more about what Sam is doing in Guatemala, you can visit his team's facebook page, Guatemala Team: The Cinco. Or you can support him at gpvalley.com/give!
I would like to take a minute to introduce myself… Hey-oh! My name is Jessica Hudson and I have recently been hired as a part-time assistant for Keipos. I’ve been married to my husband, Graden, for 13 years and we have 3 boys together. I have known Jonathan and Catherine for a few years and we’ve grown to be close friends. When they told me what Keipos had planned for 2017 and that they needed an organized, people-oriented assistant, I signed up without hesitation!
As you’ve probably heard by now, we have a HUGE project gearing up in Papillion. We are going to plant two new gardens- 1) VEG (Volunteer & Education Garden) Patch at Heartland Family Service (Papillion), and 2) Zauha Family Garden off 1st Street in Papillion. We will use the produce grown to feed 60+ families in Sarpy County. And if that wasn’t enough, we’ve also decided to put together programming and classes for at-risk youth at the Justice Juvenile Center (JJC), incorporating that with the gardens. Oh, and classes at Heartland Family Service (Papillion) on nutrition, recipes, and food preparation for the families receiving the CSA boxes. We will also offer a 12 week internship program for students wishing to learn about sustainable and organic farming practices. Whew! Obviously, this takes a lot of hands, hearts and time to make this dream a reality.
And money…. This is the part of non-profit work that people don’t want to talk about, unfortunately. To tackle a project this size, it takes a village: a director, an assistant, a people care manager, a garden manager, a team of interns plus countless volunteers. They give of their time and resources for extremely modest wages. They sacrifice time with their families, often work evenings and weekends, have other part-time and full-time jobs and pour their blood, sweat, and tears into their work. They run on adrenaline sometimes, hoping that maybe, just maybe, the work they do will impact people, their community and hopefully, the world.
To know Jonathan and Catherine is to know their hearts. Using food and farming to transform lives is their passion. They throw themselves into their work wholeheartedly. They are up early, go to bed late and rarely get a break from the end of March to the beginning of November. And you might wonder, why are they adding to their plates? Because they are crazy! Haha. Ok, maybe crazy awesome. But in all seriousness, it’s because it isn’t about them. It’s about others and their mission: the families that will receive the produce, the interns they’ll commune with for 12 weeks, the youth they will minister to at the JJC, and the community they will see changed through this project.
The truth is, this project will cost tens of thousands of dollars and we aren’t even close to reaching our goal in fundraising. We need you and frankly, we need your money. Will you consider giving so that a family may get a box full of organic, fresh produce for 20 to 25 weeks? Will you give so that a young man or woman who’s had a rough start in life will learn valuable skills and build meaningful relationships at the JJC? Can you commit to supporting an intern for 12 weeks? Will you give so that we can give everything we have to this venture?
Keep checking back to the blog in the next few weeks as I continue to highlight some of the people you will be supporting through your generous giving. And if you can’t give monetarily, please consider sharing this with others, volunteering this season and praying for us. We need all the support we can get!
Big things are happening at Keipos this year and we couldn’t be more excited! Keipos’ mission is to use food, farming, and education to transform lives. Simply put, we grow food, feed people, and transform hearts.
This season we will be working with the city of Papillion to plant two new volunteer and education gardens and use that produce to feed underprivileged families of Sarpy County and the Omaha area with the help of the Garden Givers Group, Tri-City Food Pantry, Heartland Family Services. Each family will receive a box of fresh produce every week! Good food and nutrition has the power to change the lives of the families we will be helping. Over the span of 20-25 weeks, each family will receive a box of fresh organic produce on a weekly basis. Recipes and classes on how to best use the food they receive will be provided as well.
We will also be working with the Juvenile Justice Center to provide programming for students needing summer supervision, a community service opportunity tending to the garden itself, as well as classroom education from June 8 - Aug 8, 2017. We will also be working with the juveniles who are in lock-up one day a week, providing education and hands-on gardening experience at the JJC.
Not only will they get to work on their outdoor design and garden skills, and their critical thinking skills, we will be focusing much of our classroom time on the "inner gardener" and what it means to be Forgiven, Forgiving, and Free! Many of these students will hopefully find confidence and purpose while helping to feed others, allowing their own hearts to be transformed.
These programs have the power to change lives and our city but we can’t do that without your support. We need hands, prayers, and funds to get this project going. Here are some of the ways you can support Keipos and it’s mission this season:
1. Pray for us. Pray for the city. Pray for the families who will be receiving the CSA boxes. Pray for the JJC youth who will be volunteering in the gardens. Pray for initial seed money from a grant application we are awaiting to kick-start the project with required materials.
2. Give. Consider giving a tax deductible donation to get the project started. All monies raised will go directly to preparing the land and planting, as well as towards the boxes for the 60 CSA families. 60 families x $500 per CSA share = $30,000 (!) It’s a big number but this is a big project that will have a big impact on the people and families we are serving, as well as in our city. We know that for many of you $500 is a big number- consider splitting the cost with friends, family, your Bible study, business, or church. Every donation counts! You can donate here: http://keipos.org/donate.html
3. Volunteer. It’s going to take manpower (and woman power!) to get the land prepared, garden planted and maintained, as well as packing the boxes on a weekly basis. We are looking for key volunteers who want to receive food as well as volunteers who can give just a little time each week, and/or a one time event. We will have a meeting on March 30th for those who are interested in being involved with these projects and programs. Meeting information here. You can sign up here to volunteer your time: http://www.keipos.org/city.html
4. Apply. We will be offering a paid internship for a few people! Interns will be funded through feed-a-family donations. These paid internships are ideal for students 19 years or older looking for evening work 3 to 4 days a week learning more about agriculture and organic farming. We also have the opportunity for two of those students (or a couple) to participate in a farm residency program. To apply or find more info visit: http://www.keipos.org/internships.html
We can’t wait to see how these gardens impact the lives of those around us and our city!
Will you join us?