Sowing Seeds of Faith
I recently had the wonderful opportunity to meet Nat Bradford. Nat is a talented man, and one of those talents lies in sowing. Saying that he has a green thumb doesn't do him any justice, though. After meeting with Nat on his farm, watching him work, and listening to the things that he's passionate about, I know that he most likely bleeds green. If it can be planted, Nat can make it grow and produce.
Nat's family has been planting and harvesting for generations. His family history in farming can be traced back to the 1800's. Some of that amazing history revolves around a very special fruit that is near and dear to the hearts of Southerners: the watermelon. With a fascinating family story surrounding this trailing fruit, Nat carries his family's legacy and love for farming through his business at Bradford Watermelon. While thinking beyond the slice, Nat has created wonderful products. He offers his family watermelon seeds, rind pickles, watermelon molasses, and even watermelon brandy! However, on the farm Nat's mission is so much deeper than watermelons. These fresh fruits might have been the beginning of their story, but they are far from the end for the Bradford Farm.
Watermelons are long since out of season, but Nat's family is far from idle. We met recently at his farm, located just east of Columbia, S.C., on a cold and windy Fall morning. Nat was so enthusiastic and warming, that I couldn't wait to get started. On my arrival, it was time to pick another southern staple crop, okra. This okra was intentionally left on the stalk past harvest so that it could be gathered for the seeds needed for the following season. When in season, Nat takes what okra he needs for his family and he also has local chefs that he provides for. During our time in the field, we were able to find several okra pods that were still small enough to eat and Nat's family okra was the most tender and sweet okra I have ever had - not at all the slimy okra that you might find in the grocery stores that gives this vegatable a bad reputation.
Once we finished picking the okra, we went inside Nat's beautiful home, the same home he grew up in as a child. With a home as warm and welcoming as he is, Nat showed me how pulling the dry okra apart can extract the seeds. For him, it's all about the seeds. Give him a seed and he'll give you back a fruit or vegetable, and probably more of it than you'd know what to do with. However, Nat would never attribute this abundance to his skill as a farmer, but rather he credits the success to our Creator. Nat's faith in Christ is at the forefront of the work he's doing, and he's found that there are fruits and vegetables that provide in amazing abundance. He wants to find as many of these types of foods as possible. He believes, as I do, that God will always provide for our needs and doesn't want anyone to suffer. Nat talked about how certain foods were placed on this earth for us by our Creator, and all we need to do is be stewards of the land that we were blessed with.
Nat's passion couldn't be contained while he explained to me everything he's doing. And the heart for his projects speaks to the soul of the many wonderful things going on at the Bradford Farm. Nat explained that Christ had blessed he and his family and wanted to give back in some way. From that desire came the inspiration for Watermelons for Water. Nat became aware of the global water crisis through a sermon one Sunday, and hearing that 1 of 5 children deaths are due to dirty drinking water was more than he could stand. Watermelons for Water helps those in impoverished countries by providing funding in order to drill fresh water wells. Nat also explained that raising funds and drilling wells would take some time, so he sent his family's watermelon seeds across the ocean where they could be planted, harvested and consumed as a naturally filtered source of water. This idea is pure genius, but it doesn't stop there. As a fruit originally native to Africa, it's no coincidence that this melon originated in a place where water is scarce. This beautiful point could only be orchestrated by God, the Creator and architect of all things. Nat believes he is just fulfilling what he feels he is being called to do: God's good work in this world.
Nat has also made amazing connections on his journey with wonderful people willing to share in a common passion. Nat received seeds from a friend who lives in the Dutch Fork region of South Carolina. An area settled by German immigrants many generations ago. These seeds were for the Dutch Fork pumpkin, an heirloom variety that is extremely rare. Nat has also grown heirloom varieties of peanuts, the Carolina African Runner peanut. As well as several peanuts from the Dutch Fork area, the Dutch Fork peanut and the Little August peanut sometimes referred to as the George Ray Richardson peanut. I was able to try both and they have such distinct flavors from one another and from the peanuts we know that are store bought. The Carolina African Runner was amazingly sweet and tender, while the Dutch Fork was earthy, mellow and fantsticaly crunchy.
Nat is also extremely proud of some of the work he's doing with several varieties of foods that have their roots in history long before Europeans settled in the Americas. The Candy Roaster Squash and the Apios Americana (Ground Nut). The Candy Roaster Squash looks like something that just can't be real. It seems like it's too big to be an edible squash. Come to find out, the Native Americans had been planting and harvesting this squash long ago. This crop is so hardy that they would harvest and store the squash, eating what they needed along the way, and when is came time to harvest the next seasons crops they still had squash from the previous years harvest. Nat had cut the squash he showed me months before and it still looked like it had been picked on the day I arrived.
The Apios Americana, or more commonly known as the ground nut is what Nat referred to as a true "pre-first-contact" food. The ground nut is a wild growing tuber in the legume family of plants, much like peanuts and beans. Nat described it as being a much more nutrient dense potato. It is also believed that this ground nut would have been the food that the Native Americans introduced to the Pilgrims in order to keep them from starvation. If there's one food that belongs on the dinner table at Thanksgiving, this is probably it! Planting just one pod weighing less than .2 ounces has the potential to produce over two pounds of additional pods. Nat's ability to identify these unique foods helps to provide annual and perennial growth in abundance.
If there is one thing I learned during my visit on the farm it's that sowing seeds of faith has so much more meaning for someone like Nat Bradford. His faith in Christ has led him this far and Nat knows that his continued faith will lead him so much farther as he continues his journey to explore what other natural wonders God has put on this earth for us.