An 80-acre Dilemma

Photo by Christian Widell’s on Unsplash

Returning to the Family Farm at 70

I have been a Quaker for 32 years. Now, I own 80 acres of my family’s farm. This farm has been in my family since the 1790s. As a kid, I hated this farm. It seemed like a place where all we did was work too hard and also where abuse happened. My daddy told this story about me till shortly before he died: I was working in the tobacco fields at about age eight. One day, I raised my arms to the heavens and said, “God, I don’t know what it is, but I want to go to college.” My prayers were answered. I loved college and went and went. I had an amazing career for 40 years as a psychologist. 

I gave my life to God at age seven and have tried to follow my leadings since then. In 1995, I heard I was to go to Pendle Hill study center in Wallingford, Pennsylvania, for a four-week internship. Somehow, 25 years went by. I lived at Pendle Hill for three of the years, and within ten minutes for 22. I went back and forth from Kentucky to Pennsylvania the entire 25 years to be with family and friends. 

After caring for them for six years, both my parents died only six days apart in 2018. When the pandemic hit, I was working on complicated estates’ settlements. Part of the complication was the family farm. My sisters wanted it sold yesterday. I walked in the pastures, watched the cows grazing, and suddenly saw beauty there as never before. I kept asking myself how I could sell this land when my ancestors had kept it for centuries: through the Civil War, the Depression, and so many adversities that I could not even imagine. I felt called to buy 80 acres of it, essentially investing my retirement savings there. I felt called to stand on the land and pray for intergenerational healing.

Now, here I am: the owner of 80 acres of the family farm. A few of my daddy’s cows remain for a few more months. The old-fashioned methods of farming have to leave, along with my daddy’s cows and his farming partner Ernesto—breaking my heart. The land is leased to a farmer who is conscientious and raises cattle consistent with the new guidelines in the county and those for Whole Foods grass-fed beef. There are a few horses boarded there, too. The farm keeps calling for more. 

I go to Pendle Hill’s worship every morning by Zoom. I got an email from a friend at Pendle Hill last December, saying that he had been praying about my farm. God gave him a message to tell me. I am to build a retreat center there. So, I have been exploring that seemingly impossible dream. I have talked to many people. Maybe there could be retreats involving growing flowers and vegetables. So many areas of education are needed: gardening; organics; community; mental health; physical health, related to how we eat; what it takes for food security; arts and spirituality; and so much more. Okay God, I know you have given me the opportunity to learn about so many of these topics, but a retreat center? I will need a lot of help because there is a lot I don’t know.

Can the agricultural land be zoned for retreats? Possibly it could, if a church were involved or if the retreats were to be about farming. Is the mental health group for farmers “Raising Hope” interested in doing retreats there? Possibly. Are there farm-to-table operations interested in working here? Possibly. Mental health for farmers is at an all-time low, with an all-time high rate of suicide (and I get that), and the pressures keep building. Is there a need for a place where the work I do with creativity and trauma could possibly help? Definitely. Are there many who say it is needed? Yes. Are there monumental obstacles? Yes. Have I found definite resources and commitments? No. Is this an exercise in vulnerability like I have never experienced before? Yes. 

Then one 70-year-old friend who is a lifelong Friend said, “I will give you the first $70 to celebrate my birthday.” Two other 70-year-old friends chime in, “Me too.” Only a million dollars minus $210 left to go. It could be a project of 70-year-old women. I shake my head. 

Had I ever imagined spending my 70th year on the earth with a dilemma like this? No. Do I get an image of God having a really good belly laugh? Yes. Do I know what to do next? No. I keep going right-left, right-left, and breathe and pray. 

Dear God, I am overwhelmed. Please send me help so that I can discern what is to happen with my family farm? Am I to sell it? Am I to sell half and build a retreat center? Am I to sell it all and get as far away from this seemingly impossible situation as I can get?  Thank you for discernment. Stay tuned: possibilities brewing.

Jennifer Elam

Jennifer Elam studied, practiced, and taught psychology from 1969 to 2014. She followed leadings to use her work in psychology and spirituality to develop classes and workshops for writing, poetry, dance, and painting: all as led by Spirit for healing. “Mediating Trauma through Creative Expression” is her current workshop. She recently bought 80 acres of her family farm in Kentucky and is in discernment about how to use her gifts there.

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