BROOKSVILLE — Matthew Lowman was driving back to Hernando County from Jacksonville last summer when he noticed the harvest going on at the farms he passed.
He got an idea.
"Why can't I grow a farm and give the food away?" he thought.
That night, Lowman discussed the concept with his wife, Beverly, who thought it was a great idea.
Lowman, who owns the Links Golf Club in Hudson, considered the tiller he had bought for the golf course and the tractors he had on hand.
"Today, times are tough and I thought: What if we just use what the good Lord gave us, the earth? Fortunately, we have equipment that does a lot of the hard labor. I knew I could get the stuff. I just needed the people to do the work."
Lowman mentioned his idea to Erick Davis, a friend from his church, Faith Evangelical Presbyterian in Brooksville.
"When Erick takes on anything, he goes 110 percent," Lowman said. "Once Erick got it, within two days he had bylaws written."
And Farming for Families was born.
"Matt proposed that we go and solicit land in Hernando County that wasn't being used and plant a food crop to distribute to the needy through shelters or church food banks," Davis said.
Between them, the men began lining up what they would need to make the project work. They found that people were eager to help.
"We've been very fortunate that anybody that's heard about it has thought it was a great concept," Davis said. "Everybody I've asked wants to help."
One person Lowman found was Dale Blair, a local landscaper.
"I'm smart enough to know I don't know anything about farming," Lowman said. "I needed to find somebody who did. That person was Dale Blair. He's had farms all his life."
With Blair's guidance, the men learned what to do and when to do it.
Davis donated the seed, collecting some of it from church members, and the Lowmans provided the fertilizer.
With their own church and four local families loaning them land for the project, and others providing equipment and labor, they began planting their first crop this month.
Their crop will include watermelon, corn, peas, beans, carrots, cucumbers, eggplant, squash, radishes and tomatoes.
Lowman says there are people from several churches involved.
"Our volunteers belong to many churches in our community, such as Faith Presbyterian, St. Anthony Catholic Church, First Baptist of Brooksville, Central Park Baptist, First United Methodist, and more to come," he said.
Along with the farm on the church property, between one-tenth to 10 acres is being loaned by John and Leonette Ehlenbeck, Nick Nikkinen, Howard and Teri Moore, and the Mazourek family.
The tractor work was done by Stu Smith, Teron Patrick, Jason Sharpe and the Links Golf Club.
Lowman said one of the reasons he knows God was behind the idea of Farming for Families is the response he has gotten whenever a difficulty has arisen.
"We ran into an issue with the dry weather," Lowman said. "At the church, we just used hoses, but we needed to run irrigation for the other farms. A gentleman at our church, John Roby, asked how much pipe we would need. I measured it and told him. 'Okay, I have 1,100 feet coming your way, no charge,' he told me. God has led us to all these people."
Another man, Joe Roberts, told Lowman he would send out his Ditch Witch to dig the trenches for the pipe.
"Everyone I have talked to wants to donate something," Lowman said. "We will have problems, but every problem we've had, God has given us an answer."
Lowman said homeschooled children have helped with the planting, and more homeschool groups want to participate. Under the guidance of art teacher Ann Bristol, children from Challenger K-8 School of Science and Mathematics designed a logo — a smiling watermelon — and created signs to use at each farm.
The men say the project is still in its infancy.
"We're trying to do two things at the same time," Davis said. "As we grow food, we also want to grow the program."
Davis plans to produce a video documentary of the project so other churches and nonprofit organizations can consider similar projects.
"We want to show them what Farming for Families did and show them how they can do it in their community or neighborhood," Davis said.
Lowman hopes that his group can be the starting point for other groups.
"I'd like to narrow down my group to preparing the land, planting it and educating others, and then have the other groups take it and nurture it from there," he said. "I told the landowners who are from other churches, once we plant the property and grow it, the next step would be for their churches to get involved, and then their groups can distribute it."
According to the organization's Web site, the group is driven by Scripture from Isaiah 58:10:
"If you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday."