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  • Writer's pictureRick Burnette

Two Churches Reconnect to Cultivate Food and Beloved Community

Updated: Feb 22, 2022

In April, Rick Shaw, pastor of South Venice (Florida) Baptist, reached out to inquire about church members visiting Cultivate Abundance in the farmworker community of Immokalee. He mentioned that while enroute they would connect with John Gallegos, pastor of Primera Iglesia Bautista in LaBelle, FL just north of Immokalee.

Rick explained that some decades past, South Venice members helped to establish Primera in its current location. Although I had no connections with the congregation, I regularly drive past the Latino church. Having noticed its spacious campus, I had often considered how well-suited Primera might be for accommodating a garden or fruit orchard. This prompted me to asked Rick if I might tag along for an introduction to Pastor John.

Meeting everyone at Primera two weeks later, it was nice to see old friends from both churches getting reacquainted. I was also grateful to meet Pastor John, who had lived in both LaBelle and Immokalee since the 1960s.

After sharing about the ministry of Cultivate Abundance, I proposed partnering with Primera to establish a small tropical fruit tree orchard on its campus. Pastor John was open to the idea and invited further discussions.

By June we had a plan. With access to 0.1 acres, well water, and future portions of produce, Cultivate Abundance would provide topsoil for raised beds and install a simple irrigation system. Additionally, we donated fifteen tropical fruit tree seedlings - mango, avocado, starfruit, and papaya - based on the preference of church members.

While we prepared to establish the small orchard, church members kept the area mowed and maintained.

On July 17, members of South Venice and Primera, along with Dr. Ray Johnson of CBF Florida and Rev. Miguel Estrada of Misión Peniel (the key partner of Cultivate Abundance in Immokalee), came together to plant the 15-tree orchard for the benefit of Primera members, their LaBelle neighborhood, and the Immokalee farmworkers.

To get food production off to a quick start, we also planted field peas on the raised beds where the fruit trees were planted. The viny legumes would serve to smother out weeds and provide the first batches of food from the orchard.

Once planting was complete, we gathered under the shade of large oaks for a brief dedication service and a grilled lunch of burgers, sausages, and hotdogs.

Since July, Primera’s fruit trees have thrived in the southwest Florida heat with bushels of field peas having been harvested and shared with Immokalee’s farmworkers. And more plans are being made to expand the orchard

Meanwhile, South Venice Baptist remains involved with the efforts of Cultivate Abundance and Misión Peniel in Immokalee. Church members regularly make the one-and-a-half-hour drive to deliver bags of rice and dried beans; Misión Peniel food pantry staples.

In addition to other useful garden materials, they also frequently bring 5-gallon buckets that are used for container gardens.

Each time they deliver beans, rice, or buckets, I’m amazed to consider all that has happened in less than six months.

What began as a friendly missional inquiry from South Venice Baptist has yielded not only a renewed partnership with Primera Iglesia Bautista, but also a new orchard and engagement with the farmworker ministries of Misión Peniel and Cultivate Abundance.

It is not only beloved community that is being cultivated, but also food that nourishes and honors our farmworker neighbors.

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