Jun 19, 2024 | John W. Coleman

The Carson Simpson Farm Christian Center is located in suburban Hatboro, PA. Since he arrived as its director in 2020, Jonathan Curtis always wondered about that odd name because it didn’t have a farm. Well, now it does…albeit a small one.

As one of four Camp & Retreat Centers of The United Methodist Church’s Eastern Pennsylvania Conference, Carson Simpson’s primary purpose is to provide life- and faith-enriching summer camp experiences annually for children and youth. But now it also provides an abundance of vegetables and fruit grown by staff, volunteers and campers in its Good Stuff Garden.

Even better, that bounty of goodness is on the move this summer from this suburban farm to urban tables around Philadelphia, where it’s feeding neighbors of United Methodist Neighborhood Services (UMNS), a local, nonprofit mission supported by conference, church and community partners.

UMNS has two locations: at Serenity House, a modest but active community services center sponsored by Arch Street UMC; and at Janes Memorial UMC in the Germantown area. Additional support comes from Eastern PA’s United Women in Faith, Caring for Friends, Share Food Bank  and other local churches.

A passion for serving needs

(From let) Carson Simpson Farm director Jonathan Curtis with UMNS director Millicent Clark

“We have a passion for serving the needs of underserved individuals and families in our local communities,” said UMNS director Millicent Clark. She reports serving nearly 1,900 people of all ages in 2023. “We are blessed to be a blessing to the participants who come to us for food, clothing and personal care items in their times of need.”

Healthy meals and snacks are a big part of campers’ daily experience at Carson Simpson Farm, said Curtis. “But we are keenly aware that not every kid has the same kind of access to food, let alone the fresh fruits and vegetables our campers are offered each day. It is for this reason that we started our Good Stuff Garden last year.”

In 2023 they converted an open field into a garden to grow tomatoes, herbs, cucumbers, squash and other vegetables. Campers, staff and young Cornerstone Leaders harvested the ripened produce to supply the camp and donate to a Philadelphia food bank.

“This year, we are excited to more than DOUBLE the size of our Good Stuff Garden” Curtis writes in a camp website blog article. “Our growth is in response to last year’s success and this year’s need. We have partnered with United Methodist Neighborhood Services (UMNS) Food Pantry in Philadelphia as a place that can best distribute our produce to those who need it.”

UMNS’s many free programs and resources are meeting tangible needs while also helping people to become more self-sufficient. The Good Stuff Garden, meanwhile, is teaching campers and students about the natural source and importance of fresh food, and what it takes to grow that food.

Replenishing pantries for food-insecure communities

UMNS’ food pantries constantly need replenishing to serve high-demand, food-insecure communities. Clark picked up the first bushels of fresh, farmed food for neighbors June 19, making her hourlong trip to Carson Simpson Farm (CSF) worthwhile. But she was also able to pick up nonperishable food in early June, thanks to donations Carson Simpson requested and received.

Before they arrive in June, CSF encourages summer campers and staff to “think about their communities, especially families who are living very different lives from their own,” writes Curtis in another blog post “Kids Give Back: Loving Neighbors Through Food.” “We ask them to think about how Jesus demonstrates His love in very practical ways, such as through healing or providing a meal. Then we challenge campers to follow Jesus’ example and love our neighbors in practical ways.”

The effort meets a critical need, Curtis says. “Wholesale prices for food rose around 22.4% since the pandemic. Food costs are at the second-highest level of the past 15 years. It is becoming increasingly difficult for people to have access to food, often leading to increased stress at home.”

“The partnership with Carson Simpson is an added value to the food support we’re able to provide to those we serve,” said Clark. “It goes deeper than just another partnership because of the experiences I remember having, growing up at the camp.” 

Indeed, her church, Midtown Parish UMC in Philadelphia, sends children and youth to Carson Simpson each summer and also to Pocono Plateau’s summer camp.

“We look forward to expanding our connections to make a bigger impact in our communities and to help spread awareness of the need for healthy living to eliminate hunger.”