Pastor Brings New Life After Death With Fresh Food

pastor1Many believe that after death, a new life begins. That is particularly true about a pastor who after burying many of his church members, decided to bring a fresh idea to light to help them and the community he serves.

Just outside of Raleigh, North Carolina, there’s a little town of Conetoe — population 300 and predominately African American. The town is surrounded by farmland, but the nearest grocery store is 10 miles away, making it one of the country’s many “food deserts,” where fresh, nutritious food is not readily available.

That’s where Rev. Richard Joyner, a local pastor, stepped in and stepped up.

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So Joyner started a community garden and enlisted local children to help him care for it. Today, his nonprofit, the Conetoe Family Life Center, manages more than 20 plots of land, including one 25-acre site.

“Diabetes, high blood pressure — when we first got started, we counted 30 funerals in one year,” Joyner said. “I couldn’t ignore it because I was spending more time in funerals than anything else.” This community garden directly impacts both the food desert issue and the death of his members.

More than 80 young people help Joyner plan, plant and harvest nearly 50,000 pounds of fresh food a year. Much of this produce is given away to local residents. But the students also sell the food — including their own brand of honey — to businesses and restaurants, raising money for school supplies and scholarships.

CNN talked with Joyner about his work and the impact it’s had on his life and he’s even nominated as a 2015 CNN Hero. It’s hard to believe that something so great started with death.

“I was literally exhausted from the funerals, and I was asking God, ‘What are we going to do?’ And I really heard a voice saying, ‘Look around you.’ I looked around and there was nothing but land.”

But there was a little pause from Joyner where he wasn’t really sure this was the calling that God gave him because of one minor glitch: Joyner didn’t like farming.

“Now, I didn’t like farming, and I almost paused and said, ‘Is there anybody else up there I can talk to?’ But it was almost like my eyes opened up, and so that’s what we started doing.”

“I didn’t have a good experience with the soil growing up. My family, we were sharecroppers. We grew up eating…