Ron and Terri Sue Mazza started selling the first eggs and produce from Turning Point Farm about a year ago. Around September, Ron started having some serious health issues that, for a lot of people, would spell the end of a new farming venture.
But rather than calling it quits, the Mazzas doubled down on the farm, turning it into a nonprofit under the moniker Food4Hope and are trying to expand their production.
They did some praying, Terri Sue said, seeking divine guidance. Despite Ron’s health issues, neither of them felt like they were supposed to just pack up and head back to Omaha, where they’d moved to their farm in rural Beatrice from four years ago.
“We love this land, but we knew we couldn't do it ourselves,” Terri Sue said. “We knew that the vision we had for it was way bigger than just the two of us.”
About a week later, Curtis and Teressa Barnes—who they’d known from their church in Omaha—opened the Adult and Teen Challenge of the Midlands Blue River Women’s Clinic in Beatrice, an addiction recovery program that would house 12 women trying to turn their lives around.
The Mazzas needed help with their operation and the Barnes’ were looking for an outlet to help the women get set on a schedule. Teressa asked Terri Sue if they’d be interested in having the women help out at the farm, which Terri Sue said elicited an immediate yes.
They started coming right away, she said, every week starting in October of last year. It’s a tremendous blessing Terri Sue said, having the women from Adult and Teen Challenge come in to do pretty much every job you might expect on a farm. They scoop poop from the farm’s cows and 160 chickens, they’ve hauled cement blocks to build the steps to the farm’s new greenhouse and they’ve planted seeds.
That’s when Terri Sue and Ron had an idea that would help both Food4Hope and Adult and Teen Challenge. They talked with the Barnes’ about a partnership that would split profits from any products produced on the farm.
They started out making 400 jars of apple butter a couple of months ago and they’re almost out. They’re now working on plans to make hot pepper sauce, jams, jellies, salsa and non-food items like muscle rubs and body lotions and selling them alongside the women from Adult and Teen Challenge at the Beatrice Farmers Market and along their weekly route to businesses around Beatrice.
“Basically, the venture is a win-win,” Ron said. “A win for us, because we don't have the people power and a win for them because my wife taught them how to can the apple butter and teaching them how to do other products and how to do gardening. So they're learning all the different skills that they can use in this kind of venue or in their own homes.”
With the weather getting warmer, the women from Adult and Teen Challenge were at the farm on Monday, getting ready for planting season. With dozens of chickens roaming the grounds of the farm, they’re getting the garden as chicken-proof as possible.
Unspooling tight coils of chain-link fencing, the women were raising the fence line to keep chickens from enjoying the sprouting plants that will be going in in the coming months.
Some of them, like Shalyn Stauffer, said they’d had experience working on the farm before, but for most of the women, this was a new experience.
“We scoop chicken poop, clean out the chicken coops, cow poop,” said Jennifer Woodard. “We’re planting, building things, we put together tables, We’re moving cement blocks around. Organizing the barn and putting the tarp up for the chickens.”
Even on the colder days of the year, they’re still outside, just dressed in more layers.
This is just one step in the Food4Hope plan, Terri Sue said. They see three steps that they’d like to achieve.
First, growing and selling produce and eggs.
“You want to have hope that the food that you put in your body makes a difference,” she said. “There's a difference between organic spinach and Doritos. That's the hope.”
Then, there’s the work for food aspect. If someone is interested in healthy food but can’t afford it, they’re welcome to come out and work for a couple hours, she said. The more people who work at it, the better production will be and the more people they can effect, she said.
Lastly, they’d like to donate food. They have a dream of donating food boxes to veterans and—in honor of a friend who recently died—to people with cancer.
To make that happen, they’re working to build a post-harvest area, in a building about 20 feet from the patch, where they’ll be able to wash, weigh, package and store the produce so it’s ready to sell.
They still have a way to go, the Mazzas say, but they’d like to be fully self-sufficient within the next two to five years, with orchards and a berry patch providing nearly everything they’d need to sell products that come completely from their property.
This year, they’re germinating kale and hot peppers in the greenhouse and they’ve got a few hundred asparagus crowns that should be harvestable this year, but, Ron said, there are some things they just won’t be able to do themselves.
“We make banana bread,” Ron said. “We're never going to be able to grow bananas out here. It's just not going to happen.”