In 2011 GraceSLO took over managing God's Storehouse, a local food pantry for the city of San Luis Obispo. Ken & Judi Peet were disappointed by the paltry selection of fresh fruits and vegetables. They knew the church could do better for its community.
The Peets asked church member Marti Kessler, an avid gardener, to investigate how the church could grow fresh produce for God’s Storehouse. The Peets suggested that Marti reach out to their friend, Darin Laity, who had farmed their land as part of his graduate degree in agriculture and environmental science at Cal Poly
When Marti called Darin, she was painfully aware of how much work the project would require, so she cautiously asked Darin if he would be interested in helping to create a volunteer-run farm on the Peets’ property.
Darin remembers thinking, “She didn’t even need to finish explaining the idea before I was on board.”
Marti and Darin discussed creating the volunteer base needed to maintain a farming operation. Then Darin took the idea to his pastor, Jon Medlock, at Trinity Church. For Jon, the farm presented a rich variety of opportunities such as mercy ministry, community building, outreach, creation care, and intergenerational service.
“It just fit so much the personality of the church,” Jon said. “It was pretty obvious pretty quickly that it fit the theological convictions of creation care, acts of mercy, and relational ministry. Over time, we realized it also created a third space where Christians naturally overlapped with people from the community who were not believers.”
In 2011, the two churches put together the team to start Firstfruits Farm SLO as a joint farm ministry to supply first choice produce to God's Storehouse. Soil and field preparations began in 2012.
2013 was the farm's first growing season and we harvested 8,800 pounds of produce for God's Storehouse from a 1.5 acre parcel of land on the Peet's property.
Aware of the lack of high quality fruit available, we expanded our operations by planting an orchard on the Peets’ property and moving the vegetable farming to a 2 acre parcel of land donated by Son Care Foundation.
Come 2018, we grew 18,000 pounds of produce, which we donated to eight organizations around San Luis Obispo, including God's Storehouse, the Cal Poly Food Pantry, the Cuesta College Food Pantry, The San Luis Obsipo Vet Center, Stand Strong (formerly the women’s shelter of San Luis Obispo), Judson Terrace, People Helping People of Los Osos, as well as the San Luis Obispo Food Bank.
As the leadership team looked at our little farm ministry in 2019, we saw that it is not so small anymore and we saw that many of our team were on the path to burn out as the 2019 growing season was extremely difficult and frustrating despite our stellar opening day of planting with over 100 volunteers! The weeds, oh, the weeds. They were stubborn and reproduced like never before and demoralized our volunteers and leaders.
We knew we had to make a big change to make sure our farm ministry lived on so, in the summer of 2019 we brought on Faith Carlson (with her Master's Degree in Social Work!) as our Executive Director and charged her with getting us organized and re-energized. And wow, did she deliver! She led us thru hard discussions that showed us our need to formalize our organization and pursue becoming a 501(c)(3).
It took a few months of paperwork filing, bylaws writing, and policy manual making, but we did it! We became an official 501(c)(3) with bylaws, articles of incorporation, an official seal, and a board of directors! But don't worry, we're not moving into some big city skyscraper and wearing fancy suits (tho we did clean up nicely for Darin's wedding), we're still the hands in the dirt crew (well except Jen who is allergic to every weed in the state of California) of humans who love The Creator, The Creation, and our neighbors as our selves.