College of Agriculture & Natural Resources
Institute of Applied Agriculture

All Are Fed at the Farm

Author: 
Meredith Epstein
All are fed at the farm - Bernie Fowler, Jr.
Group photo with Farming 4 Hunger (Bernie is in the middle in the blue shirt, Warren to his left in plaid).

5.2 million pounds. That is how much sweet corn, potatoes, tomatoes, green beans, and other fresh produce Farming 4 Hunger (F4H) has donated since the non-profit organization was formed in 2012. Bernie Fowler Jr., founder, had a vision through his own personal struggles to assist the hunger community of Southern Maryland while supporting the local economy.

Fowler spoke at the Institute of Applied Agriculture’s April 5th Sustainable Agriculture Tuesday lecture, explaining how F4H accomplishes its mission through unique partnerships. He and his wife, Rose, coordinate fruit and vegetable production for the Maryland Food Bank with 27 local farms, their home base being Serenity Farms in Prince Frederick, Maryland. But it is about so much more than food – it is about second chances and prevention.

With what started as an employment access program for incarcerated men and naturally expanded into addressing drug and alcohol addiction, Fowler developed a highly effective on-farm intervention and prevention space for the local community. “People call us a program or an initiative. I don’t really like that. We’re sharing life on the farm,” he explained.

Churches, local businesses and schools, the Maryland Food Bank, the Department of Corrections, and a network of hundreds of volunteers work side by side each week at F4H to grow, harvest, and distribute food to the hunger community. Then they share their stories. Stories of struggles, mistakes, recovery, and hope.

Warren Holley, who joined Fowler as a special guest at the talk, shared his story. Convicted as a teenager for second degree murder and incarcerated for 20 years, Holley was given his second chance by working at F4H. “All are fed at the farm in one way or another. You’re not just picking food for other people, you’re getting fed too. Your spirit is getting fed,” he shared. Holley is one of 62 farm employees over time who originally came from the Department of Corrections. Not one has returned to prison since.

Coincidentally, as Fowler and Holley spoke on the College Park campus, they revealed that life sharing started on the farm when the UMD football team visited. Fowler had his first opportunity for a volunteer group to sit down with his incarcerated workers for some real talk. The impact was astounding, and it has continued ever since. Entire school systems across the state are now clamoring to organize field trips to F4H for harvesting and life sharing.

“Of all places, it’s happening on a farm,” concluded Fowler. “Wherever there is a farm, a Department of Corrections, schools, hospitals, churches… you can replicate this.” Imagine the possibilities.

For more information about Farming 4 Hunger, visit www.farming4hunger.com and check out this wonderful new video.

You Can't Believe What's Happening on this Farm... from Mesmeric Films on Vimeo.

Sustainable Agriculture Tuesdays are part of the campus-wide Sustainable Tuesdays lecture series, co-sponsored by the Institute of Applied Agriculture, the School of Architecture, and the Office of Sustainability.

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