World Hunger Relief Inc.’s 40-acre farm on the north edge of Lacy Lakeview encompasses largely nondescript plowed fields and pasture, but from there Jonathan Grant, his staff and volunteers can see the world.
Specifically, they see a world of hunger, where millions around the globe live in food insecurity because of poverty, agricultural failure or lack of access to food. While they see the need, they also hear a call to do something, whether growing food or training others in agricultural techniques and animal raising suitable in countries with limited resources.
Growing and education have been the farm’s mission since its creation in the 1970s, but it will refocus attention on local hunger concerns under Grant, who became the Christian organization’s new executive director last week.
Grant, 49, brings a background rich in diverse experiences. He is the son of Baptist missionaries to Brazil, where he grew up for his first five years. He studied theology at Baylor University’s Truett Seminary and spent years as youth minister and associate pastor, including at Waco’s Calvary Baptist Church. He founded and owns Red Truck Renovations and Red Truck Custom Homes and worked as a real estate agent through Bentwood Realty. He spent three years on the board of the nonprofit Court Appointed Special Advocates for Children of McLennan County. He is husband to Waco dentist Jennifer Grant and father of their two children, Libby, a Texas A&M University freshman, and Luke, a Waco High School freshman.
He fills a position that has been vacant since former director Matt Hess left two years ago. As the organization struggled with declining income and lack of leadership, its board asked Jeremy Everett, executive director of the Texas Hunger Initiative, to oversee its management in the interim as a senior fellow.
After working with the board and farm staff to keep the operation going through a bumpy stage, Everett found one answer when Grant called him with some ideas for the hunger nonprofit. To Grant’s surprise, his call led to a job offer.
“We are thrilled at having Jonathan coming on board,” Everett said. “We couldn’t have asked for anybody with a better set of skills.”
Grant boils down his new job to two main functions.
“I’m the chief fundraiser and storyteller,” he said with a laugh.
For much of its history, the farm was best known locally through its annual Farm Day where visitors were invited to come out, see the farm’s rabbits, goats and hogs and learn about the group’s work and mission.
That mission included training people, often agricultural missionaries, in global anti-hunger work through techniques of sustainable agriculture in low-resource environments. Over the years, however, violence and instability in many developing nations, coupled with changing denominational emphases and financial support, have affected the viability of that model.
As a result, Grant comes aboard as World Hunger Relief refocuses to see global hunger filtered through prism of local hunger, with food grown by its staff and volunteers to address food insufficiency in the Waco area.
“A lot of people call us the World Hunger Farm, but it’s not like we’re growing hunger,” Grant said.
To meet local needs, the farm sells produce at the Waco Downtown Farmers Market, provides food for the Family Health Center’s Prescription Veggies program that allows doctors to prescribe regular deliveries of fresh vegetables for families. Until recently it also operated the Veggie Van, which sold produce in neighborhoods deemed food deserts.
Everett sees World Hunger Relief working as a lab of sorts, trying new approaches to help communities reduce food insecurity.
“It’s always been that organization in town trying new things,” Everett said. “The farm always had that innovative edge. With Jonathan in leadership, I think it’s going to happen more than we’ve seen.”
Grant, who feels a divine calling to his work, already is thinking, if not outside the box, then extending its walls. He would like to see a farm-to-school program where families could pick up fresh vegetables at neighborhood schools; the farm’s crops made available to multiple farmers markets and local restaurants; and a sort of “farminary,” where Christian students could combine social work and ministerial training with education in sustainable agriculture.
He will work with an operating budget that Everett said usually falls between $350,000 and $500,000 and a small full-time staff, several of whom see their work as more than just a job.
Garden manager Gala Gerber, 54, taking a break from weeding in late morning heat, said she came to World Hunger Relief about three years ago after training as a nurse, 12 years in landscaping and a life-changing visit to South Africa.
Working and living on the farm has required a downshift in lifestyle, but the reward of working to help others far outweighs that, she said.
“We can see that we make a difference together,” she said.
About four of the farm’s 40 acres are growing crops now with a rotating part of the land intentionally left fallow. The farm’s small staff of four full-time workers, supplemented by volunteers, was busy this week composting fields to prepare for fall crops of beans, cucumbers, okra, squash and pumpkins.
The farm steers clear of non-organic fertilizers, insecticides and plastics.
“We want to be good stewards of the soil,” Grant said. “This is a hard way to do it, but I think it’s the right way to do it.”
Grant said it will take some time to get the organization and the farm where he would like them to be, but his most fulfilling ministries have been those in which he invested years.
“I want to see the shade of the tree I plant,” he said.