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Monday, Dec. 14, 2020

Cumberland Farms

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Garden grows healing relationships

is an island of hope in a sea of poverty and need. It grew up in the so-called K Side neighborhood of Bossier City in the oldest part of town.

Three years ago, Mark Rodie, a minister who heads a group called Men of Courage, found his group growing and looking for a purpose. They learned about the Cumberland section of old Bossier, the highest crime, highest poverty and the city’s lowest educational achievement area.

They organized block parties for the community, and soon the neighbors warmed to their presence. Rodie said the first block party they did brought the principal of Bossier City Elementary and the pastor of Sunflower Baptist for the first time, even though they are next-door neighbors.

“We gave away a couple of hundred hams two years ago, 300 turkeys last year, another 300 turkeys this year at the holidays,” Rodie said. “We’re out there every Thursday night. We do a thing called the Underground. We’ll have a hundred kids out there. We’ll feed them because most of the time, those kids don’t get fed outside of what they eat at school.”

In the summer of 2019, Allie Hammett, who leads the distaff group called Women of Courage, was on a mission trip to Dallas, where she was introduced to the Bonton community. The south Dallas area is plagued with 85% of the men who have been to prison, poverty is rampant, and jobs are scarce. It’s also a “food desert” where access to healthy food is non-existent.

The community there created an urban farm to help the people find food and meaning. Soon, the “garden” spanned about 40 acres.

Hammett saw the possibility of duplicating the effort in K Side and shared the idea with Rodie. “What’s funny is neither Mark nor I know how to plant or grow anything,” Hammett admitted. “We know how to kill everything. We are two people who are not equipped. God doesn’t call the equipped; He does the calling and then equips the person.”

Rodie agreed. “I don’t know what I’m doing. I’m the taste tester. I’ve planted some shrubs at my house.”

Vince Maggio donated the original land for the proposed garden, and despite having no expertise, no crops and no water readily available, Cumberland Farms was born. With help from the city of Bossier and several plumbing contractors, Rodie was able to get water to the crops, and by the end of the summer, things were blooming.

“The whole idea is to unify and connect the lost and broken to Christ, who is ultimately going to be the one that changes [things]. But also, to unify our cities, the divide that we have between races.

Hammett explained what the garden means. “Just having a piece of land, and having a few vegetables out there, and being able to do Bible studies with the kids, have a one-on-one relationship with the kids. Really and truly, it’s going to be hard for us to change adults, to get adults to change what they know. But if we can change one kid not to want to live dealing drugs or selling drugs, but to live for Christ, it’s all worth it.”

Recently, Cumberland Farms products have appeared at local boutiques, gift shops and groceries. “For us, it’s a tool for telling the story, offer a great product, and it helps fund the ministry,” according to Rodie.

Even though the growing season is quickly falling behind us, Cumberland Farms is still hard at work.

“Someone told me a long time ago you spell love, t-i-m-e,” Rodie said. “We’ve been out there three years, so they know we’re not just knocking on doors to get them to go to the polls and vote for somebody. They see with us that there are no strings attached. There is no agenda. We’re just out there loving on them.”

This Christmas season, the group is one of 10 non-profit organizations competing at the Shreveport Aquarium for the best Christmas tree. The Cumberland tree is decorated with white ornaments adorned with the thumbprints of some of the many kids who have met new friends and learned about religion while getting their hands dirty sowing good seed.

Rodie is encouraging everyone to get out the vote for his group to keep them growing.


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