July 2023
Reimagining Assets

From One Small Seed: The Story of Plainsong Farm

“The earth is the Lord’s.” – Psalm 24:1a

“See, I am making all things new.” – Revelation 21:5

For almost 20 years in ministry, I read these texts, heard them and said them, but when God called me to create a new ministry in and with the Episcopal Church, using property that my family owned, I still had a hard time living by them.

Once upon a time, Plainsong Farm was simply the place where I lived. In 2001, my husband and I bought a former organic farm with 10 acres, one house, and two big barns just north of Grand Rapids, Michigan. I named it Plainsong Farm, but it wasn’t a farm while we lived there. Neither of us was a farmer, and it takes a farmer to make a farm.

As I walked the property in those early years, I felt like we weren’t being faithful to it. The land had so much potential, with its fields that had once grown food and its barn that could someday hold people. Our property was small, but I knew small things mattered in God’s economy. I also knew that our nation’s food system was contributing to ill health for both people and the planet. I knew that Christ was the great healer. And I knew that the place where I lived fit somehow into the story of God’s ownership and redemption of all things.

But I didn’t know how to make a ministry at the intersection of food, place and faith. I didn’t know how to make a ministry with soil and seed and water along with human beings. I didn’t know how to make a ministry that proclaimed that the earth is the Lord’s, and that God is doing a new thing in this era of climate crisis.

I didn’t know how, but God knew how.

“If you do this, I will help”

Plainsong Farm started after I tried and utterly failed to begin it on my own in 2013. That’s when I got down on my knees and said to God, “I can’t do this, but if you do this, I will help.”

From that day forward, God has done it. On July 1, 2014, my husband and I made the Plainsong Farm property available to the Diocese of Western Michigan for a year at no cost, which turned into six years at no cost. I was willing to work without pay to bring it to life. Back then, there were no other people involved in its day-to-day work, no financial assets, no supporting members, no programs, no outcomes.

But God was determined to do a new thing that was an ancient thing: God brought to life a ministry that integrated Scripture texts and open-ended questions, science and prayer, young and old. Nine years later, Plainsong Farm is now a living laboratory for farm-based discipleship. Our mission is to cultivate connections between people, places and God by making a place that nurtures belonging and the radical renewal of God’s world.

Accomplishing the Impossible

Holy Scripture teaches us that from one small seed God can bring forth exponential growth – 20 times, 30 times, a hundredfold. I have seen this with my own eyes at Plainsong Farm. The small seed of faithfulness and a willingness to risk in response to God’s call has borne incredible fruit. I can’t count how many people’s lives God has changed through this ministry. I am sure I don’t know them all. And most days it feels like we have barely begun. The things we now count boggle my mind: hundreds of donors, thousands of dollars, hundreds of people who come to the farm in any given year, tens of thousands of servings of fresh produce grown and given. I know I didn’t create this growth. It’s so far beyond my capacity that it always feels like a miracle.

This past year, my family sold the property on which Plainsong Farm operates to the ministry. It was the culmination of seven years of work: work to create a sustainable revenue stream, work to find others for the staff, work to create a governance system, work to incorporate a new entity in the Episcopal Church (the most difficult aspect of this experience), work to develop an agreement between my husband and the farm ministry’s board of directors, work to figure out the financials that would make the sale logical for our family and for the farm ministry.

God has completed every impossible task to bring Plainsong to life, but a lot of people have put in a lot of work to bring Plainsong Farm to life too. It is my privilege to write most of the essays about it to try to explain what God has done, but if Plainsong were mine, it would have collapsed a long time ago.

Of thine own have we given thee

If this is what God can do with a residential property, what can God do if offered the properties that our ancestors sacrificed to build to glorify God in generations past? These places are already dedicated to health and salvation. When we understand that health and salvation are real-world experiences that involve the care of this earth and the people that inhabit it, the possibilities our properties hold are endless.

In 2017, inspired by seeing how God was at work at Plainsong, I started working to gather leaders from other denominations and traditions who understood the opportunities that land holds. The FaithLands and ChurchLands initiatives grew out of these first gatherings. They continue to this day, and it’s time for this work to grow.

As the church, we are meant to see that this earth is not simply real estate; it is the work of the Lord. Our tradition exists to pass on this truth. How can we practice faith in a way that provides healing to people and planet through the care of places? This question still leads me forward.

Plainsong Farm moves forward only by the grace of God and the gifts of generous donors. You are invited to learn more and become a supporting member of the farm.

Nurya Love Parish figured out that God was calling her toward Plainsong Farm in the early 2000s when she mysteriously cried every time she talked about this dream. As the founding Executive Director, Nurya has spent years figuring out next steps uphill on an uncharted path, and now gratefully engages with board, staff, young adults, donors and many partners and friends. Nurya is a graduate of Harvard Divinity School, priest in the Episcopal Church, writer and consultant, and on days off she enjoys spending time with family, reading, cooking, or walking in the park near her home.


This article is part of the July 2023 Vestry Papers issue on Reimagining Assets