Twenty-five years ago, Rick and Carol Bernstein felt a calling. A divine pull toward an incredible journey, one that started small and blossomed into something neither of them could have envisioned. It started as a family project with a mere third of an acre. As interest grew and recognizing a need for more hands to do this work, their church joined the cause, and the seeds of a weekend passion project began to sprout.
“We were called to do this knowing God was guiding us and understanding how great of a need there was in the community for fresh produce, hoping to make it more accessible for those struggling with hunger and blessing them with high-quality “first fruits” following the scripture in Matthew 25:35,” Rick says.
The effort expanded, and despite being 100% volunteer-run (which continued until 2018 when the first staff member was hired), the impact was felt far and wide. As more land became available, they spread the operation over 14 miles in Baltimore County. With more and more community involvement and more resources needed, the decision was made to establish First Fruits Farm as an official nonprofit organization in 2004.
In a pivotal career decision, Rick, a founding partner of a global investment management firm, retired from his career about six years ago and dedicated himself to this calling full-time. This decision marked a significant turning point, and the search for a new farm home began. With fundraising efforts and an outpouring of support, First Fruits Farm purchased its 203-acre property and consolidated all of its operations into one property, significantly lessening the logistical challenges of managing thousands of volunteers.
Today, First Fruits Farm has transformed into the largest nonprofit farm in the Mid-Atlantic region, spanning an impressive 281 acres. The farm continues to donate 100% of its produce to feed the hungry, as they have done since its inception. “Our volunteers are the lifeblood of the farm graciously giving of themselves to help us support our growing distribution network,” Rick says.” It takes a village to keep the farm running and productive, and this season, we welcomed over 17,000 volunteers of all ages and from all walks of life to serve with us, helping to feed hungry children, families, seniors and others struggling with food insecurity.”
Despite not having a farming background, Rick has always nurtured a love for farming since his days spent on his grandparents’ farm. Today, he brings his passion to the farm every day. “Our farm’s mission has not changed,” Rick says. “We continue to donate all our food in Jesus’ name. We are grateful for the opportunity to serve our community by making fresh produce accessible to those struggling with hunger.”
The farm’s largest crops are potatoes, sweet corn, green beans, cabbage, zucchini and tomatoes. Additionally, they also grow pumpkins, peppers, watermelons, broccoli, collard greens, brussels sprouts and some other produce in smaller quantities.
This year, First Fruits Farm partnered with over 150 organizations, all of which have been heavily reliant on the farm as they strive to serve the most vulnerable in their communities. They donated more than 2 million pounds of food, which equates to over 8 million servings of farm-fresh food. In total, Rick estimates that the farm has provided over 25 million pounds of food for hungry people since the farm’s inception.
As the 25th season of feeding the hungry wraps up, Rick, Carol and the First Fruits Farm team look back with gratitude on this incredible journey, hopeful for the future, and committed to serving the community through faith, farming and philanthropy.