by Brayley Payne and Cole Sutton
World Hunger Relief, Inc. (WHRI) is a well-known and beloved farm in Waco, Texas for the production of locally grown and organic fruits, vegetables, dairy, and meat products. Put simply, WHRI is “a Christian organization committed to the alleviation of hunger around the world.” The WHRI’s mission is to teach sustainable agriculture based on the Christian principle of serving others while also serving the land.
WHRI was founded in 1976 by Bob and Jan Salley with the hope of alleviating hunger worldwide. The Farm began as a way to train missionaries to go abroad and live productively in agriculturally underdeveloped countries. The missionaries taught local people about new and effective farming techniques in an effort to improve their nourishment and to help them become self-sufficient. Over time, the vision of WHRI has shifted from sending missionaries to various countries across the globe to developing a special focus on the population where the Farm was founded: right here in Waco, Texas.
Three of the best systems used to alleviate hunger around the world are now being used here in Waco at the Farm, including: “intensive vegetable production in grow-beds, rabbit husbandry, and agroforestry.” Over the years, WHRI has also developed many more systems in their attempt to address hunger in impoverished areas. These additional systems include: “Grade-A goat dairy, dried flower production, and fresh market vegetables.” The Farm accomplishes such a wide variety of food production—from vegetables to rabbit meat to goat milk—by training interns from Texas as well as from around the world in sustainable farming, helping to develop communities who can better prepare and fight against food injustice. “Close to 400 alumni have graduated from WHRI to become agricultural missionaries, leaders of anti-hunger non-profits, educators, and sustainable farmers.” The impact the Farm has made both globally and locally is clear in their holistic and spiritual approach to serving and loving their neighbors.
In Waco, the Farm’s primary initiatives are a “Veggie Prescription” program and participating in the Waco Downtown Farmers Market. As a partner of the Family Health Center of Waco , the Farm is working to serve the undernourished. The program is described as “basic medicine”: an easy way to bring healthy produce to people in Waco who suffer from malnutrition as well as diseases such as heart disease or diabetes. The Veggie Prescription program follows a simple process: from their doctor at the Family Health Center, undernourished patients receive a “prescription” card for fruits and veggies, and they may fill their prescription right at the clinic, where WHRI workers drop off boxes of fruits and veggies each week. The patient then receives a box filled with seasonal fruits and veggies, as well as a recipe card written in English and Spanish, to better equip the patient to cook up the healthy food they’ve received. This program is a big part of addressing local problems with malnutrition among poor populations as well as food inequality, which allows the Farm to teach interns about food insecurity at the local level before training them in the global work of eliminating hunger worldwide.
The Farm doesn’t just train interns but introduces youth and children to sustainable farming during their annual camps for local youth. The Farm also teaches a community class at a place called the “Urban Homestead,” located right on the Farm’s property. The Urban Homestead is a living demonstration of how anyone can use a half-acre plot—the size of the parcel of land allocated to most single-family houses—to produce fresh, sustainable produce which can provide a much-needed nutrient supplement to regular groceries and transform ornamental lawns or flowerbeds into land for practical, but still aesthetic, use.
At the Waco Downtown Farmers Market, the Farm’s stand provides organically grown produce, eggs, and meat and dairy to anyone and everyone who wishes to buy farm fresh food at reasonable prices. The extremely popular Waco Farmers Market provides an easy outlet for WHRI to spread the word about the work of the Farm and to demonstrate the high quality of vegetables, herbs, fruit, eggs, and meat that a sustainable farm is capable of producing. Through a dedication to excellence, sustainability, and above all their Christ-centered mission to provide for and love the poor, WHRI’s produce has become a cornerstone at the Farmers Market and a touchstone for the Waco community to stay informed about the Farm’s initiatives.
One Baylor student told us her story of experiencing the Farm’s stand at the Waco Farmer’s Market. “The Waco Farmers Market is one of the happiest places to be in Waco on a Saturday morning. I have some of my best college memories from the Farmers Market, of trying new foods, supporting local businesses, and enjoying time in the community with friends, fellow Baylor students, and fellow Wacoans. My favorite part of the Waco Farmers Market is buying farm-fresh eggs from the World Hunger Farm’s stand. They are often multi-colored eggs, and I have the peace of mind of knowing exactly where my eggs came from. This is the benefit of shopping locally, and it is one of the easiest ways for Baylor students to support the World Hunger Farm and the Waco community. Buying groceries is essential, but it’s important to consider where we buy them from and what food we are putting in our bodies.”
Located near Baylor University, students from the Baylor campus have the opportunity to serve the Farm through volunteering, visiting the Farm for educational classes, buying local foods from the Farm, either by driving out to them or by visiting their stand at the Waco Farmers Market every Saturday morning, or through donations. Even as young college students, it’s important to remember that it matters what we put into our bodies. Food is the fuel that launches us forward into every endeavor, whether it be writing a paper, taking a test, or enduring a stressful week—or all of these things simultaneously! Eating from a local farm is one easy and sustainable way to feed our bodies well, while also supporting our community.
Additionally, for any and all Truett students, Dr. Jenny Howell, the Farm’s resident theologian, offers classes that are held on the Farm; upon completing these classes, Baylor students can earn a Theology, Ecology, and Food Justice Certification.” Dr. Howell’s hope in developing this program “is to re-orient students’ understandings about creation and help them understand that how we care for creation, how we live in and as a part of creation, is itself a theological issue.” Dr. Howell and the staff of WHRI believe that we can form Christian hearts, souls, and minds by giving people the opportunity to better understand their food and the amazing work of God’s creation that goes into getting foodstuffs to their homes.
Therefore, the most important gift we can make to the Farm is the donation of our time. There’s always plenty to do in out in the fields, and passionate, able-bodied college students are ideal farmhands. Because the Farm is growing produce for the Waco Farmers Market and the Veggie Prescription Program, producing the maximum volume of fresh fruits and vegetables is always a challenge that the staff is taking head on. So, don’t be shy, the Farm can always use an extra set of hands! Plus, as a bonus, when visiting the Farm, you might even get to interact with the infamous mallard duck, Lefty—the Farm’s mascot. Just days after the infamous “Snowpocalypse” of the 2021, Lefty followed us through an entire tour of the Farm. He quacked and waddled alongside the group, enduring cold weather and high winds, just to see what was going on and to tell us what was what.
One of the co-authors of this article (Cole Sutton) had the opportunity to volunteer at the Farm, and he found that his time at the WHRI has helped to reshape how he experiences and understands food. “I cleaned out chicken coops and rabbit cages,” he says. “I cleared ground for planting. By the end of my time, I was really, really tired, and really, really satisfied. For the first time ever, I could see what it takes to grow the food that I take for granted. Getting to talk with Chase and Dr. Howell really opened my eyes to how changing my perspective on food can change my life from the ground up. Literally. I’m much more aware now…of the importance of meeting the needs of people, no matter where they’re at. People need vitamins from roots and vegetables, and we need to make sure they get them. We also need to make sure mothers and fathers and children get what they need, and the only way to do that is if we can sustain the farming we’re doing. It’s inspiring to think that after my hard day’s work, the next day another group of people came and built on what I did, and other people will build on what those people did the day after that! You can feel this community as you work. You can also taste the difference in the eggs! I try to buy only Farm eggs now and also the produce whenever I can get to the Farmers Market. It is amazing to know where what I’m putting into my body came from, and to know that it’s not feeding some big unknown system, but it’s feeding and growing Waco, my town, right here, today.”
If you don’t have the time to go out and get your own hands down in the dirt, you can still support the sustainable work of the Farm by composting. Both Baylor students and Baylor University as a whole can support the Farm by bringing various compostable items out to the Farm to be reused as fertilizer. The Farm has a list of local businesses who partner with them in composting their waste each week, which includes: Common Grounds, Pinewood Coffee Bar, Oh My Juice, McLennan Community College, and many more. However, at the moment, Baylor University itself isn’t mentioned as one of the Farm’s composting partners—but by adding the compost of the thousands of students who eat on our campus every day, we could improve our community, lessen our ecological footprint, and support the Farm. The Farm holds a compost drop-off every Tuesday from 3-6 PM, so save your compost, have your campus organization save its compost, and get involved! Now, you might wonder what exactly counts as “compost.” Here’s a helpful list from the Farm’s website: “fruit and vegetable scraps, egg shells, bread and grains, coffee grounds and tea bags, plant and garden trimmings, and dry plant material.”
The Farm’s love for composting even goes as far as the plumbing. The bathrooms at the Farm are waterless, and instead use litter to reduce the use of water and to create fertilizer. According to the WHRI website, “The average American uses 80-100 gallons of water every day.” This water then has to be treated with expensive chemicals in order to be safe enough to return to the environment. The main use of water in toilets, according to WHRI, is to take away waste. Thus, they have created a much more sustainable way to carry away waste and yet preserve water. This is but one example of what students can learn about how to better care for our environment and for our local community out at the Farm.
The World Hunger Relief Farm is living out the Christian mission to serve all those in Jerusalem, and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. Over the years, the Farm and its staff, interns, and missionaries have sought to take care of people all over the world, all over Texas, and also right here in Waco. Supporting WHRI by buying their produce at the Farmers Market, or with time spent out in the fields, is supporting a long-lasting love of earth as well as love for the people here in Waco who rely on the Farm’s veggies to stay healthy.
To spend time at the Farm is to be part of a workshop: a workshop in being a good steward and, more importantly, in gratitude. We can be grateful for the food that we have, and we can also be sensitive to those who don’t have enough. We can be grateful for the ability to sustain the earth, and we can be sensitive to avoid the practices that do not preserve our planet. We can be grateful that there is a way to seek food justice and care for our community right here in Waco, and we can be more sensitive to the needs all around that that mission of WHRI and BCHP are trying to meet.
The first step is knowledge, and if you’ve made it to the end of this article, you have that now! So go to the Farmers Market, go volunteer out in the field, or go get a veggie prescription if you need one. Support the work of this organization, because to support them is to support Waco, to support Texas, to support our globe, and to support yourself.