Two western Lincoln County couples hope to use their 25 acres of farm land to carry out their vision of sustainable agriculture, growing and sharing food with both area nonprofits and local neighborhood communities.
The idea came from ministry work husband and wife missionaries Jason and Joan Williams created in a low-income, urban neighborhood in Charlotte more than a decade ago.
The ministry commenced as the “Hyaets Community” — Hebrew for “Tree of Life” — in 2005 after the pair settled in the Enderly Park neighborhood at the corner of Tuckaseegee Road and Parkway Avenue, Williams said.
The ministry later adopted the title “The Family Tree.”
The couple’s mission was simple, Williams said. They wanted to immerse themselves, like Jesus did, within a culture of people they sought to serve, educate and empower.
Nearly 20 people comprised the Charlotte community, supported by a network of 30-40 churches.
“We are trying to take what we read in Scripture seriously,” Williams said.
After several years of teaching their impoverished neighbors about Christ through the provision of food items and other goods — even operating a community garden and food pantry among the group — the Williamses decided it was time to branch out from the ministry and operate their own, one more rural in nature.
More than anything else, Jason and Joan wanted to create a community based on sustainable agriculture using acreage they desired to purchase to grow and supply food items for themselves and their neighbors in Christ — essentially, everyone around them.
As a result, the Williamses purchased land in Vale more than a year ago. The property is located at 1903 Shoal Road.
They said they wanted to use the acreage to grow fruits and vegetables to supply Lincoln County’s existing nonprofits, not wanting to create another organization for needy citizens, but be an additional support system for ones already in operation.
However, it was their friends Derrick and Amber Dunn who first moved into the rural property’s white, two-story home.
While the Dunns supported and interacted frequently with the Hyaets Community, they never lived in Enderly Park, Derrick Dunn said.
However, they enjoyed the idea of living a more rural life and living closer to the people and communities they would minister to in the future.
They chose to move to the site of the new Lincoln County ministry they now call “Little Tree.”
“We were yearning for the support and closeness of the community,” Dunn said, “so we could share our burdens and struggles with other families and basically live out what we were called to do…You are living together 24/7 and so have a better chance of making the missions and goals…flourish and happen when you have the support of the community.”
Both couples, each with two children, now share the residence. They are open to the idea, Williams said, of having more people live on the property, if necessary.
According to hyaets.org, Little Tree’s primary purpose is to unite and balance “hospitality, prayer and Sabbath.”
Not only does the ministry seek to grow items for local food pantries but also build retreat facilities where individuals and groups alike can learn how to sustain themselves through farming and other practices related to the practice of permaculture.
The ecologically based concept focuses on building designs and structures that will aid in sustaining natural ecosystems and agriculture.
The couples have already carved out a natural irrigation system on the property made of ditches or “swales.”
“You find the contour of the land and dig,” Williams said. “Water slowly (seeps) into the ground, and you don’t need pumps or pipes.”
Another large-scale project for the ministry includes cultivating a “food forest” along the swales.
The area will consist of fruit and nut trees, Williams said, and be used to supply food for hungry citizens and neighboring communities.
He believes every neighborhood has the potential to harvest a food forest. With no one person in charge, the method of sustainable agriculture enforces unity among communities and prevents impoverished groups from feeling like they have to beg for food or rely on others for their needs.
“It’s a simple way for low-income people to gain economic opportunity,” Williams said.
Whether for spiritual relaxation or information sessions, the property will be available for a variety of church groups, Boy Scout troops and others, even if they aren’t necessarily designated as a Christian organization, Dunn said.
With regard to the information-led retreats, participants will also learn canning tips and skills pertaining to cob construction — using mud, clay and hay to create ovens, structures and other necessities.
“(Skills) that will empower neighbors in the community to give them more knowledge,” Dunn said.
Little Tree also wishes to build a community garden for UMAR in Lincolnton and provide poverty simulation workshops for interested groups or business, giving others an opportunity to see first-hand what it’s like to be in true need.
By the end of the year, the ministry hopes to construct at least five retreat cabins on the property. While some of the facilities will be similar to bunk houses, Dunn said others will contain just a single bed.
Little Tree also maintains a chicken coop and a greenhouse, built a little over a month ago. The structure contains a variety of food plants including a lemon tree, spinach, squash and sugar peas.
In the process of becoming a 501(c)3 nonprofit, the Vale ministry is currently receiving funding from its Charlotte parent ministry as well as additional financial assistance through grants and donations.
The couples have already secured a $1,000 grant from the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of North Carolina.
Drawing inspiration and direction from Acts chapters 2-4 in the Bible, the Williamses and Dunns have much faith and confidence in their vision.
They simply consider themselves “Christians coming together,” willing to give to “anyone in need,” Williams said.
“In some ways, it’s a church on steroids,” he said of Little Tree.
Anyone wishing to donate to Little Tree can make checks payable to: Hyaets Community, 2910 Parkway Avenue, Charlotte, N.C. 28208. Individuals are asked to write “Little Tree” on the memo line.
For more information, visit Hyaets.org or call (704) 479-1687 or (704) 391-8529.