In small potato patches across Cleveland County and in the hearts of the hungry who receive the potatoes, Christ’s followers are planting hope.
Since potatoes are a viable crop across North Carolina, the leaders of the Cleveland County Potato Project hope this highly successful project will take root across the state.
The project began in 2009 with a vision arising from a men’s Sunday School class at First Baptist Church in Shelby. Doug Sharp and Bill Horn left the class that Sunday, burdened about the needs of the hungry and believing a simple idea – planting potatoes – was something they could do.
Sharp and Horn spoke to agricultural agents and local farmers and then went to Charles Reed, ministry support team leader of the Greater Cleveland County Association, who encouraged them to proceed because of the tremendous need for food.
Volunteers gather potatoes last fall for the Cleveland County Potato Project.
When the first plot of land was made available for planting in the spring of 2010, Reed prayed with the advisory group on the wind-chilled site, asking that God “bless the talent and spirit of people who want to do something about hunger in this county.” Sharp says, “Bill Horn and I are given credit for starting this potato project, but God started this. We don’t claim any credit.”
In the spring of 2010, 10 donated plots were planted – and that first year 30,000 pounds of white and sweet potatoes were harvested and distributed through the association, church food pantries and other relief agencies.
In 2011, 84,000 pounds of potatoes were harvested from 22 donated plots. The goal for 2012 is to grow 100,000 pounds.
Baptist individuals and groups have been heavily involved in the project from the outset. Sharp says the support of the association has been critically important, especially in the distribution phase.
The Baptist State Convention of North Carolina has helped fund the project each year with gifts from the Hunger Relief Fund. The N.C. Baptist Men’s Shelby Mission Camp has made a plot of land available. The area’s Spanish-speaking ministry has raised a crop of potatoes. Gardner-Webb University students help with soil sampling and are a consistent source of volunteers.
Local Baptist churches are participating in the project. One of the churches involved is Beaver Dam Baptist Church in Shelby, led by Jimmy Black. He sees the project as a way for the church to carry out its mission. “We literally had children and church members all the way up to 80 years of age out there,” Black said.
Seven Cleveland County churches have also had potato plots: Elizabeth Baptist, Shelby; Patterson Grove Baptist, Kings Mountain; Zion Baptist, Shelby; Second Baptist, Kings Mountain; Getsemani Hispanic, Lawndale; Washington Missionary Baptist, Shelby; and Lafayette Street United Methodist, Shelby. New Life Baptist Church in Madison in Rockingham County has also had a plot.
More information about starting a similar project can be found online at ccpotatoproject.com. For questions about the project itself, call Sharp at (704) 480-1608 or Reed at (704) 482-3472.