Grace Episcopal Church
The Ocala Farm Ministry
By Lise Kent
For the past 3 years the ECW of Grace Church has given support to the Ocala Farm Ministry. Also, in 2020, the OFM was awarded a Becoming Beloved Community grant by The Episcopal Church. Today I’d like to share with you what the Farm Ministry is about and what it does for members of our local farm community.
Ocala Farm Ministry is a Not for Profit organization located in Marion County, Florida. We are Christians who have come together to offer guidance, support and protection to a growing community of families that have traveled here to work on the many farms in Marion County. Our Farm Ministry leader is Chaplain Bob Miller. Chaplain Bob brings his love of the Lord to everyone he greets each day. Bob is an integral part of the Ministry. His spiritual guidance has helped to keep many members of the farm community on track during tough and stressful times. He drives miles each week checking in on the farms and their employees, giving hugs, shaking hands and making sure all are doing well. He will pray with you, find you a refrigerator, an affordable used car, or give a ride to an appointment when needed. Chaplain Bob’s name is known by all within the farm community.
OFM formation began in 2005 and grew out of a need to care for the 100’s of families that have settled here to work on the farms of Marion County. Farm picnics, intra-farm sports competitions and holiday celebrations brought many together and began tying a community of strangers together. In 2007 a 7-acre open field was purchased with the help of the local community and horse farm owners. Within months the land was cleared and the soccer field was in play. A small modular building was also purchased to house our community center, with two meeting rooms and a large central area for church services, Boy Scout meetings, consulate services and a myriad of other programs. There are about one hundred and fifty boys and girls in the soccer program and several informal adult teams, so the field is constantly in use. Last year’s Marion County Freshman Soccer Player of the Year is a graduate of the OFM soccer field. For the older teens Chaplain Bob has begun a program called The Force, concentrating on their growing spiritual, physical and mental dimensions while developing their bodies on a newly built obstacle course.
In 2018 we were blessed with a generous donation which allowed us to build a concrete block building to house more community events as well as a growing after school tutoring program. This awesome addition to the ministry was built by Grace member Michael Owen. The building can also be used as a hurricane shelter, as most of the homes where our families live are older mobile homes. Chaplain Bob’s wife, Dee, who is a certified teacher with 30 years’ experience, heads up the after-school tutoring program and she and an assistant have 19 children arrive after school 3 days a week. Her program has had an incredible success rate and ‘our kids’ have gone from failing in school to 90% on the A/B honor roll. A high-capacity broadband internet system was installed with ten computers to aid in homework help. During Covid it became obvious that many children were trying to complete their online schooling sharing a parent’s phone, with little or no internet connectivity. The computers were able to be purchased with the gift of the Becoming Beloved Community grant from The Episcopal Church. These computers are also accessible to the adults in the community. When not tutoring, Dee Millar does advocacy work for the families in the community; at school, hospitals, courthouse, DCF, dental clinics, and Heart of Florida.
Chaplain Bob is always reminding the OFM Board that the Lord will provide. And He has. There are so many instances in the past 18 years that it was thought we couldn’t do one thing or another, and yet it happened. Many people have provided the Farm Ministry with their gifts of Time, Talent, and Treasure. Our faith says this will continue. Thank you, Grace Church, for your constant support. If anyone would like to visit the OFM and learn more about what it does, just let me know. I’d love to show you around.