(Photo: Saddleback Organic Farm Ministry)
Coming from a family of four generations of California farmers, ministry leader Gene Archibek said he was “done with farming” as a child.
However, late last year, the 40-year-old member of Saddleback Church in Orange County, Calif., said he was inexplicably drawn to the church’s recently acquired ranch land in San Juan Capistrano.
Archibek became one of several volunteers who helped the church prepare the 175-acre property previously owned by Crystal Cathedral to become a satellite campus and retreat center. It was clear to him that the tasks at hand had nothing to do with farming.
He did whatever was asked of the volunteers who showed up on Saturdays, including pulling weeds, digging holes, planting plants, and cleaning. The property known as Rancho Capistrano includes a Spanish mission-style chapel and conference rooms among rolling hills, old oak trees, and a small lake.
Then, one day, Archibek said he suddenly realized why God had led him to the property.
“I was walking up a hill and I saw an abandoned tractor that was very similar to what my grandfather had when I was a child. And right there, God just put it into my heart what I had to do,” he said.
“I come from about four generations of farming. I ran away from it when I was a kid. I couldn’t stand it,” Archibek explained. “But that night I wrote down the plan God put on my heart and I asked Him, ‘Are you sure?’”
Soon afterward, he said he heard about a federal grant program that donates seeds to non-profit groups and decided to apply and submit his plan for a farm to the agency in charge of giving out the grants.
Archibek said he received an enthusiastic phone call from someone in Washington, D.C., and 800 bags of seeds were on the way.
“I received this grant and I knew that’s God telling me there’s no backing out,” he said.
Archibek then told his pastor and mentor from Saddleback about his plan for a farm ministry, which included people coming together to help plant, harvest, and distribute fresh produce to the church’s food pantry program.
Another component to the farm was that it had to be organic. Churches throughout the nation are increasingly including organic farms to help supplement food pantry programs. At the time of Archibek’s vision, Saddleback Church began Pastor Rick Warren's Daniel Plan, a push for members to live a healthier lifestyle which includes eating organic food when possible.
As the result of more discussions with his pastor, a ministry was born and Archibek is now the leader of the Saddleback Organic Farm ministry. Throughout the life of the volunteer program, Archibek said he is amazed at how God has provided all its needs.
“I was stressed about the organic component of it and a lady called me that was part owner of an equestrian facility. She wanted to donate organic compost,” he said. “She delivered 200 cubic yards of organic compost.”
“It’s been a tremendous learning curve for me because the farming I was familiar with wasn’t organic in nature,” he added. “God blessed me with a volunteer who is an avid, passionate organic gardener; he is a fountain of knowledge.”
Anywhere from five to 50 volunteers come every Saturday morning to help farm the designated 1/2 acre of land. God has always provided the right amount of people to get what needed to be accomplished for the week done, he said.
Last week, Archibek delivered 200 pounds of tomatoes to Saddleback’s food pantry, as well as 80 pounds of zucchini and squash. The church’s food pantry program serves about 3,000 people a month, according to the ministry. The fresh produce helps supplement what is given to people in need.
“One of the hardest things for the families is that they are not able to get fresh produce. Everything that the pantries give out is canned or dried. They usually don’t have the ability to give out fresh produce,” he said. “The ministry gives people the ability to eat fresh food.”
The farm's crop now includes corn, tomatoes, beans, melons, cantaloupe, squash, zucchini, Swiss chard, multiple types of chili plants, carrots, sweet potatoes, basil, parsley, thyme, and dill.
As the result of so many things falling into place, such as donated seeds, plants, organic fertilizer, irrigation, and equipment, Archibek said he has learned to wait on God.
“I was taught about the Lord through seed when I was a child. Seeds are the most amazing thing in the world because no matter how you throw it in the ground it always knows which way to send the roots and which way to grow,” he said. “It’s very similar to our faith. We water that seed, it grows, and it comes to fruition.”
“So, when I thought about what this ministry would be like, it was to bring people together and have fellowship where people could learn about God.”