What started out as an idea to share abundance has grown into an enterprise bigger than the three founders ever dared to hope, dream or imagine.
Monday, the trio will celebrate an anniversary as a milestone rather than a destination.
Harvest With a Heart began in Milford in 2008 with a simple idea. Nancy Haines and Ann Schlabach had been in a pumpkin patch during a preschool field trip the fall before and noticed all the picked over pumpkins rotting away in the field. The two got to talking, realizing that farmers and even backyard gardeners produce far more than they can eat themselves, and it would be great to find a way to share that abundance with others.
So the following summer, after recruiting Angel Hardy to the project – Schlabach said it didn’t take much convincing – the three ladies borrowed a space, gathered some locally grown produce, and opened up shop near Emeline and Main streets.
People paid whatever they felt was fair for the produce, and could designate payment to go to one of several local not-for-profits.
“It just kind of took off,” Schlabach said.
By the third year, the trio received a grant from the K21 Health Foundation for a permanent home at the corner of Higbee (Ind. 15) and Emeline streets.
Heading into year 10, Schlabach said it’s not always been easy, and it would have been impossible without the combination of volunteers and faith.
“I remember when we had to decide whether or not to go 501(c)(3). And it was going to be a huge investment for us at the time; it was like $300 and we thought, ‘We’re dealing with quarters here, this is insane.’ And it was a 26-page application, and we had to go to a lawyer with all this extra stuff, and we were told, ‘They’ll probably kick it back, they never approve it the first time.’
“And we’re thinking, ‘Right now we’re just this little market. If it doesn’t work out we can just shut it down. But if we do this, then we’re going to see this through. This is going to be a part of our lives.’ And I remember having a real struggle with that. ‘Am I ready to take something like this on?’
Then I was listening to my pastor’s sermon and he was talking about the blind man who had to go to the pool of Siloam, and Jesus put the mud on his eyes and told him to go wash in the pool.
“It was like, ‘just trust me. Go in obedience.’ Jesus could have healed him right there, Sometimes you have to take the walk and trust, and then you get the blessing.
“And so we jumped, and we’re still here.”
In the seven years since moving into the current facility, the Milford Food Bank has moved into space there, and Harvest Coffee has opened near the corner of Catherine and Main streets. Schlabach said it’s all about connecting people, even in a small-town environment like Milford.
“Absorbing the food pantry was really a turning point,” said Maria Cousins, director of operations. “It allowed us to care for a whole different set of people.”
Schlabach said, “The food pantry is a different demographic than the market, which is a different demographic than the coffee house. So we’re trying to meet different groups where they are, and them bring them all together.
“I think it’s been going well. People who come to the pantry see the market and the fresh vegetables, and what we don’t sell we move over to the pantry. But they can afford some vegetables at the market, so it gets used.
“We try not to have a lot of waste here. We’ve even driven some excess to The Rose Home or Our Father’s House.”
Where once the three ladies wondered how long their enterprise would last, now it’s much more a matter of it being a permanent part of their lives. Each of the families, especially the kids, have spent a lot of time at Harvest.
“My kids lost their first teeth at Harvest, with cucumbers or corn or whatever they were biting into. Now they’re going into high school, and I don’t think my kids can remember a time when we weren’t at Harvest.”
Schlabach said the enterprise has resulted in strengthened faith for all involved.
“We have seen so many things happen that, especially in those first years when we didn’t have a dime to our names in terms of getting things set up, and there were so many little coincidences that we just started laughing about it,” she said.
“We’d have a thought like ‘We should have Christmas decorations to give away,’ and the next day there’d be a box of Christmas decorations and the donor would say they were cleaning out their attic and thought we’d want them. Or we’d think, “We need just one more refrigerator,” and someone would call and say “hey, I’ve got this fridge that’s avocado green, but it still works.’
“Another time we were running out of baskets, and baskets are kind of our thing. And someone pulls up with a truck, literally 30 minutes later, and said, “Hey, I saw these at a garage sale and bought all they had.’
“It got to the point where we’d laugh and say, ‘Boy, it’d be nice to have a bazillion dollars.’
“We were reminded of Paul in the Bible, who tells us ‘If you’re doing the Lord’s work, He’ll give you what you need to get the job done.’ And it’s been like that with Harvest from day one, right down to the baskets. At what point is it not a coincidence?”
Harvest With a Heart’s market is open from 3 to 6 p.m. Mondays and Thursdays through October. For more information visit its Facebook page or harvestwithaheart.org.