Within a matter of days the Rev. Mike Hutchins of Divine Word College, a Roman Catholic seminary based in Epworth, will leave the place he has called home for 18 years and head to a new assignment at the Divine Word Farm in rural Weldon.
Hutchins is the longest serving president in Divine’s history.
Hutchins will live on the 240-acre farm, which is one of 14 Divine Word Farms in Iowa whose operations support SVD (Society of the Divine Word) missions overseas. Profits from produce and products, which are sold locally, go to help street children in the Congo, offer health clinics and occupational training to children in India, comfort AIDS victims in Thailand and bolster missionary efforts among the poorest in the Amazon.
“I feel very good about this move,” said Hutchins. “In one sense, it’s a time for some personal renewal and a chance to engage people out side of my administrative role in the college.”
Divine Word Farms is an initiative started by a Catholic missionary order that helps more than 67 countries around the world by working with the poor, neglected and disadvantaged.
According to its website, a plantation was established in the late 1800s, for the missionaries to support themselves in New Guinea. The plantation not only supported them, but produced enough income to help fund schools, churches and medical expenses.
Among his new duties, Hutchins will be a liaison with the SVD Mission Center, located in Techny, Ill., conduct outreach efforts to educate the public about the farms and their connections to the SVD missions and write articles about their operations.
The Weldon farm got off to a rough start said Hutchins. The original goal was to raise vegetables organically, however, this endeavor turned out to be “pretty ambitious,” he said.
Last year bad weather and a tornado ruined a couple of greenhouses and thousands of tomato plants.
The staff began looking at what else could be grown that could produce a profit, would be hardy for Iowa weather and not be as labor intensive.
The farm is in the process of growing 750 young chestnut trees that can be harvested in about three to five years, said farm Business Manager Eric Miller. Later this the farm managers plans to plant more trees as well and include some dwarf apple trees and other types of apple trees, he said.
In the production building there are rows of starter vegetable plants that were started as seedlings. The building has a heated cement flooring and if dirt were thrown on the floor could easily grow plants, said Miller.
A remaining greenhouse also houses more starter plants. When ready these starter plants are then sold to farmer’s markets and local stores, said Miller.
The farm includes 110 tillable acres, which will be used to plant soybeans this year. There are also five acres of strawberries, which were planted last year.
Farm staff also finished renovations to a production kitchenette. The kitchenette is a U.S. Department of Agriculture inspected commercial kitchen and will be available for rentsaid Miller.
Three wind turbines on the farm are able to generate electricity for the remaining
greenhouse, a mobile home, office building and storage facilities which has helped keep the electric bill lower, said Miller.
With a slow start Hutchins said the farm is still in the beginning stages and there’s not a lot for the public to see. But at some point the goal is to have the farm become a focal point for the Divine Word Farms. Part of Hutchins’ new role will be raising awareness of the farms and making the work of the Divine Word missionaries better known.
“We kinda want to put a face on the work we’re doing,” said Hutchins. “We hope to make it a place where people can come and learn about what we’re doing overseas.”
He said the education will also include talking to people about world hunger and sustainability.
“We have vast resources in Iowa,” he said. “Even though economic times are tough, people in those other countries live in economic hard times all the time. We’re in a position to help other people.”
Hutchins said he also envisions inviting youth to the farm for educational purposes. Activities for the youth could include fishing in the farm’s stocked pond.
“We could blend in some information about our missions with a day of fun,” he said.
The pond was put in to help irrigate the organic vegetables.
About the farms
Five of the mission’s farms are paired with five ministries overseas – each of the sites supports a particular mission over seas. This pairing makes the mission’s work somewhat more personal to visitors, said Hutchins.
For example the Divine World Farm in Union County is paired with Bua Lamphu, Thailand Mother of Perpetual Help Center. The Iowa farm raises 500 head of cattle, which are sold, the profits are used to support the mission work.
The Thailand ministry serves children and adults with HIV and AIDS. The ministry includes a farm program – which helps move poor farmers obtain self-sufficiency. The farm ministry offers a cattle program. HIV infected families receives a heifer and a calf.
Brother Dennis Newton, SVD, director of the Mission Office, said he is excited about Hutchins joining his staff and welcomes the opportunity to have a Divine Word missionary present in South-Central Iowa where their farms are located.
“Father Mike will be an excellent ambassador to our farming partners and benefactors there,” Newton said.