By Jimmy Dula, NFU Intern
Allen Brimer is the farmer/pastor at Farm Church, an agriculturally-minded religious community. Brimer has extensive experience cultivating produce and raising farm animals, as well as over a decade of religious service. In this Q&A, Brimer tells us more about his operation and the challenges and opportunities he has encountered farming for a paycheck.
How did the idea for Farm Church come about?
My first career was in farming. In the late 90’s, I was working on a 300-acre organic farm in Indiana with Franciscan nuns. I then left to go to seminary school. I didn’t want to preach every week; I wanted to work on a farm that integrates a spiritual dimension. I had the idea for Farm Church in 2000. A few moves and over a decade later, I still had the idea in my head. Current pastor/farmer/friend Ben Johnston-Krase awoke from a dream in July, 2014 about a location for a church that was on a farm. At 3:20 am, he started googling “farm church,” but found nothing. By 5:30 am, he had bought the domain name farmchurch.org. Shortly after that, we launched the Facebook page and immediately gained over 1000 followers. We got calls from executive presbyters, churches, church camps, etc. Dozens of calls from coast to coast.
Where is Farm Church located and why did you decide to put down roots there?
After a nationwide search, we narrowed down to five locations. Durham, North Carolina was the dark horse. We packed up families and vetted all five locations. We knew that we needed to be in a population center to support two full time pastors. We couldn’t just go out to a rural environment. And we wanted to find a place with food insecurity issues. Land cost became an issue in most of the cities, and the only affordable land was too far outside the city centers. Durham is a gritty, complicated, diverse city, but the food culture at farmers markets is strong. And only a ten minute drive north of the city you were in affordable farm land.
One benefit of Durham is that Duke University is there and has a professor in charge of agrarian theology. Everything kept lining up and going in the right direction. It might even lead you to believe that there is some higher power. Trust, believe, put your faith in this God.
In August of 2015, we moved. No land, no promises. We started from scratch. After finding a small apartment, I began performing home inspections on the side, and we barely managed to afford health insurance for the family.
It got to the point where lots of people were offering land to farm in Durham. Curiously, few of those people were actual farmers. Four off the top of my head invited me out to look at land. Probably more.
After conversations with local Presbyterian powers to be, they were supportive. We fell into good relations with a local Episcopal church offering a ½-acre lot available to farm right in the city. In May of 2016, we broke ground on the gardens and started worship services.
How is the farm operation integrated into spiritual teachings?
This is an ongoing daily conversation. Worship begins when someone gets out of their car and ends when they get back in their car. We start with hands in the soil. Work on a variety of projects. Choose your own adventure type of environment. Some people are watering, some are building beds. There are different levels of intensity. Some projects are silent. Some are intentionally social to create community. Scripture of the day is carried through everyone’s work. After outdoor activities, everyone come inside for a more traditional worship. We constantly ask ourselves: what would it look like if farm life were liturgical, envisioning a meal within that for Eucharist.
How do you make a living and what are the long term goals for Farm Church?
I continue to inspect homes. I’m also an adjunct professor in world religion, and I teach online courses. My wife works as well. We patch it together, but hopefully we will be able to move from a part-time to full-time pastor position with the church.
The goal is to expand Farm Church one urban garden each year, with eight gardens currently across the city. We will start an Americorps-equivalent program to manage urban gardens. Our sights are on a 40-acre rural property for long term establishment.
We’ve never been as alive, never been as scared. It’s easy to not be alive when you have a sort of standard job. This is an advent.
How do you market produce?
Everything that is grown is given away to pantries, individuals, kitchens, etc. Who is on the margin and whose table needs to be supplied with fresh local produce? We partnered with people who are experts in poverty and food issues. We partnered with SEEDS, an educational food insecurity center who provide after school programs and family programs. We use their building on Sunday morning, and help with projects on the ground in exchange for the space.
Are others seeking to combine spirituality and farming to improve food security and connect people to the earth?
There’s something wonderfully compelling about the combination of farms, spirituality, and service. The public is hungry for a reconnection with earth and food, and everyone is growing weary of capitalist industrial life. There’s something very compelling about the two words “Farm Church.” They want to know what it looks like, smells like. It really gets people excited and more people than not immediately have a positive imagination about it. There are lots of little start up farm/food/church, combos. Lots of little churches with 10, 15, 20 acres, and they are trying to revitalize themselves with a new imagination of church. Quite a few close by who are doing really good thoughtful stuff.
Reverend Allen Brimer is the farmer/pastor at Farm Church. With experience growing fruits and vegetables and working with large and small animals, he brings the agricultural know-how to the Farm Church vision. Prior to saying “yes” to Farm Church, Allen served as the pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Somerset, KY.