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Lawler Farm

On a Mission to Fight Hunger

Six years after founding Brandywine Creek Farms, Jonathan and Amanda Lawler’s mission to end food insecurity in their community is stronger than ever.

“We don’t just hand out food. We use food as bridge to connect to people and find out why they are in this cycle of food insecurity,” Jonathan says. “The only way to address food insecurity is to address poverty.”

Their hunger-fighting effort began when their son asked to share the family’s food with his school’s food pantry. That request transformed the family’s produce farm from an agricultural business to a quest to feed the hungry.

Jonathan says he is guided by Bishop Desmond Tutu’s belief that, “There comes a point where we need to stop just pulling people out of the river. We need to go upstream and find out why they're falling in.”

Currently, the Lawlers’ Brandywine Creek Farms feeds an average of 30,000 families each year.

“While that’s not the hundreds of thousands who are hungry, every person we can save from drowning is one less person we worry about going forward,” Jonathan says.

Brandywine Creek Farms partners with community centers to identify people most in need of food donations. They also help those in need navigate available resources specific to the underlying issues driving that need.The Lawlers’ farm is structured to operate on a rule of thirds: one-third of their produce is sold wholesale to grocery stores, one-third is retailed into affordable access markets and one-third is donated to food banks and community centers. However, the reality is much different.

“The need is always so great that we end up giving more,” Jonathan says. “About 70 percent of our crop was donated in 2019, and in 2020 we donated 95 percent of all produce grown on our farm.

“COVID-19 took us to a point that I’ve never been as a farmer,” Jonathan adds. “We went from constant production growth to a need to pivot with all cash-positive markets going away overnight and a need for donated food that was 330% greater than the year prior.”

Due the increased need for food donations during the pandemic, Jonathan and Amanda have chosen not to take a paycheck from Brandywine Creed Farms since March of 2020.

“All farmers make sacrifices. There’s nothing special about the sacrifices we make to keep our farm alive,” adds Jonathan.

The family also operates an educational garden for area school children, a day camp, a soup kitchen and their FARM program, short for Formerly Incarcerated, Addicts, Recovery and Mentorship.

The farm’s day camp gives inner city kids ages 7 to 17 a chance to experience farm life.

“They see what we do every day and are able to actively participate in raising crops, while still having fun,” Jonathan says. “For those attendees at-risk of hunger, we also make sure their parents are signed up for our food deliveries.”

Brandywine Creek Farm’s FARM program teaches young men and women real-life farm skills. Formerly known as the Second Chance Farmer Program, the program has accepted 78 applicants, with 20 successfully completing the program.

“When you work with at-risk folks, you are going to have a lot of heartbreak, but we’ve had a lot of success stories, which we are really proud of,” Jonathan says.

Among the “diamonds in the rough” who excelled in the program is a young man who possessed a knack for mechanics, progressing to the point where he could service all of the farm’s equipment. Another young man became a sheriff’s deputy after completing the program, and missed the farm so much that he instead secured a job managing a hops farm. Others include a welder and an urban farm manager.

Brandywine Creek Farms produces cucumbers, tomatoes, zucchini, cantaloupe, watermelons, bell peppers, jalapeno peppers and banana peppers. The Lawlers run it with their three sons, Daniel, Elijah, and Gabriel.

For more information about the Lawlers’ family farm, visit www.brandywinecreekfarms.org.

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