He has no background in growing food; no knowledge of organic farming — yet the Rev. Jonathan Dodd, missions/Elkhorn campus pastor for Westside Church, has a passion for both.
“My Dad didn't teach me anything about growing food. We were a suburban family and got our food from the grocery store," Dodd said.
That started to change while Dodd was at seminary at Regent College in Vancouver, British Columbia. He had been on numerous mission trips to Nicaragua, helping at an orphanage.
"The man who ran the orphanage was a good friend and mentor, and he was going to have to close the orphanage," Dodd said.
Funding had dried up, but Dodd was given a little money.
"They told me to start a coffee company and use the proceeds to support the orphanage,” he said. “I thought it was a brilliant idea."
Dodd declined a job as senior pastor at a church in Vancouver he was interviewing with and decided to walk by faith. He and his wife moved to Florida, where the ministry was based.
"Our goal was to import the coffee from Nicaragua and sell it in that Florida area. Dodd wanted to know where the coffee came from.
"I didn't want to be doing a good thing and a bad thing at the same time," he said. "I didn't want to help the orphanage and rip off the poor farmers. I knew the reality of these farmers."
He took a team to Nicaragua, slept under the stars on a mountain and fell in love with the place. He began to see issues in front of his face like never before.
These farmers had no running water, no electricity, no education and no sanitation. He realized the problems were bigger than just the orphanage. They needed sustainable growing and he would help. He shipped small amounts of coffee, and sold to churches. It didn't go as well as anticipated. That's when Dodd started selling at Farmer's Markets.
"I started thinking about organic farming. As a new coffee company you have to be fair trade and organic. We were neither," he said.
This resulted in his founding Keipos Inc., which means garden in Greek. It became the non-profit branch funded with the for-profit organic farming operation called New Earth Farming Goods. While still in Florida, Dodd had a chance to buy a foreclosed house with four acres.
"We thought we could have some animals and it would be fun,” he said. “I had no intention of starting a farm."
They did turn the horse stable on the land into a chicken coop. Dodd borrowed a friend's tractor and plowed a big section to start a garden. They seeded more than 400 tomatoes and they all came up. Still with no clue what he was doing, he advertised on Craig's List to teach organic farming with sustainability. Within two weeks more than 150 people responded.
"That's how we began our hospitality ministry with food and farming. It all took off in our backyard," he said.
They ministered with soup and bread lunches to people from all walks of life. In the process people learned about organic farming.
Through an ECHO (Educational Concerns for Hunger Organization) seminar, Dodd's world changed yet again.
"My love of agriculture took root," he said. "For the first time in my life, I was sitting in a room, surrounded by agricultural missionaries, living in the villages trying to help people. I felt like I was in a room of giants."
From there he wanted to help the farmers better, and the orphanage better. It was no longer just about selling Santa Martha's coffee, but establishing better agricultural practices. If Dodd was going to help, he needed to learn how himself, in order to train others. He began to blend his theological background with a hands-on approach of discipleship to build relationships.
"You get a chance to present the Gospel, but it's something else that draws people to you, and gives commonality.
Now organic farming southeast of Elkhorn, Dodd realizes that those in poverty either don't have access to healthy produce, or they can't afford it.
"It's not just giving people fish, but teaching them to fish. That's the heart of it for me."
He and his congregation in Elkhorn also planted a community garden. It has not only supplied food, but has taught others organic farming. On Dodd's organic farm, in addition to importing and selling Santa Martha coffee, he is kept busy with produce of all kinds, fruit, pork, chickens, eggs and beef.
Most of the produce is sold to individuals or friends, or wherever there is a market. Dodd sells the animals live. Customers pay a live animal fee, and Dodd delivers it to the butcher, and the customer pays the butcher.
He has also concentrated on raising money for water projects for the coffee farmers in Nicaragua. He designed a rain catchment system with a holding capacity of 5,000 gallons for the school in Nicaragua. They also built an oven and a stove that are ecologically sound and showed the people how to do it. He also provided water filters, did landscaping, and built a children's play area, and, of course, sold their coffee.
Dodd is thinking about what comes next.
"I would love to educate people full time about the land and the natural world around us, and how to harness and use it, not destroy it."
Keipos Inc. promotes the education, the compassion, mercy, and justice by the redemption and restoration of all things through Christ.
"We have to make some big changes, if we want to provide a live able world for our children, and our children's children."
For additional information visit www.Keipos.org.