The veggies are free at Lincoln man’s ‘take it or leave it farm stand’
LINCOLN — Jim Brown has built it and they have come.
This summer Lincoln residents and passersby may have noticed a new addition on River Road, a white farm stand shining like a tiny beacon of hope a few steps from the United Church of Lincoln.
There’s no price list, no honor system, no jar for dollar bills. Instead anyone and everyone is encouraged to donate their surplus vegetables or to take what they need. The sign out front reads “Take It or Leave It Farm Stand.”
And it’s working. Brown estimates that hundreds of pounds of produce have been dropped off and picked up from the stand since he installed it in June.
“There are no words to describe the feeling produced by the outpouring of vegetables,” he said. “‘Humbled,’ maybe.”
A retired Design/Tech teacher at Mount Abraham Union High School and former maintenance coordinator at Autumn Harp, Brown built the stand this spring, but the seed for it was planted 10 years ago.
“For a long time I’ve really felt like this is what I should do,” he said.
It’s based on a simple idea, “neighbor helping neighbor,” inspired by Brown’s Christian faith. A small wooden plaque affixed to the farm stand’s left wall alludes to the Biblical origins of the name used both by the farm stand and the church group that runs it: Feed My Sheep – Grow With God.
According to the Gospel of John, chapter 21, which relates Jesus’s post-resurrection appearance to his disciples in Galilee, Jesus three times asks Peter, “Lovest thou me?” Three times Peter declares his love, and three times Jesus responds with “feed my lambs” or “feed my sheep.” Many scholars have interpreted this passage to mean that shepherds should feed the flock of God, not only materially but also spiritually.
“It’s not just about filling bellies,” Brown said. “It’s about touching hearts.”
Though Brown has spoken with only a fraction of the people who have come and gone from the stand all summer, the outpouring of gratitude has been overwhelming.
“People say it’s the best thing ever,” he said.
It has been especially meaningful to those who cannot always afford fresh vegetables. For those who lament not being able to donate, themselves, Brown has a simple message: Your appreciation is donation enough.
What he had originally envisioned as a ministry of the United Church of Lincoln has quickly evolved into something bigger.
“One day some campers stopped by and picked something up,” Brown recalled. “Another day they came back and dropped off some cucumbers. This really is about the whole community.”
That community extends beyond Lincoln to a number of businesses that donated materials for the farm stand.
Lincoln-based Harvestar Power donated a 30-volt rooftop solar panel, which powers a system that circulates cool air through the farm stand’s vegetable baskets.
“That’s to keep the vegetables from wilting,” Brown said. “But usually the turnover is so fast that the vegetables don’t have time to wilt.”
Bristol’s A. Johnson Lumber donated oak boards, which Brown used not only for the farm stand but also for a number of raised garden beds, which he built and distributed to neighbors who wanted to grow vegetables to give away.
And Otter Creek Awnings donated an awning designed to Brown’s specifications, which provides shade for visitors.
Other materials were provided by the United Church of Lincoln and by Brown himself.
Zucchinis, cucumbers and summer squash have made the most frequent appearances in the farm stand, he said. But this summer has seen a little bit of everything: beans, root vegetables, fruit, eggs and herbs.
“There was even some stuff I’d never seen before, like patty pan squash.”
One person donated 40 pounds of pork. Another dropped off a dozen packets of flavored sea salt. Occasionally fresh flowers will appear in a five-gallon bucket nearby.
The farm stand will likely stay open until October, Brown said. In the meantime, he’s tweaking it here and there: improving the cooling system and adding LED lighting to aid evening visitors.
At their next meeting, the Feed My Sheep – Grow With God group plans to discuss ideas for expanding the project’s scope.
“Maybe we teach a cooking class at Burnham Hall every few months,” Brown said. “And create recipes that explain how to cook the vegetables you find in the stand. And we could cook and deliver meals around town.”
Though he’s trying to let the project grow at its own pace, Brown would love to see his farm stand replicated in other towns and said he’d be happy to share his plans and experiences with anyone who is interested.
“By doing this we give glory to God, even if not purposely,” he said.
For more information about the farm stand or to get involved, email or call the United Church of Lincoln: [email protected]; (802) 453-4280. There will be a follow-up meeting to discuss the effectiveness of the farm stand as well as to discuss ways to expand the program to meet needs in different ways. Participants will discuss food preparation and distribution, and any other areas that seem to fit. The meeting will be held Monday, Aug. 27, at 6:30 p.m. in the basement of the United Church of Lincoln.
Reach Christopher Ross at [email protected]
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