Remembering Matt Wiley, organic farmer for the Schoolcraft UMC/Winchell Ave. Disciples Growing Project
It was in the spring of 2001. I was invited to speak after the morning service at Schoolcraft UMC. I gave the FRB “pitch” and opened it up for questions. A hand went up in the back row. “I can’t get excited about a program that would sell soybeans at 4 or 5 dollars a bushel. How’d you like to sell ‘em for 10 or 12? I responded, “Well, I’ve never worked with an organic farmer before, but I would sure like to!”
And that started a wonderful relationship with my friend Matt Wiley.
At gatherings, Matt and I both knew why we were doing this – because, as Christians, this is what we are called to do – so we didn’t spend any time on it. We had the luxury of talking about what we both love: farming. It was a magnet that drew us together and we loved it.
Matt was a cutting-edge innovator, always hearing about and trying something new, like speakers sending sound waves over soybean leaves to encourage more efficient photosynthesis. I’d buy a gallon of fish emulsion for my garden: Matt would get a tanker load from the Gulf Coast to foliar-feed his corn. The growing project’s quarterly meetings with his city partner church were an education in farming, one of the many side benefits of FRB.
Matt “retired” from active farming this past year and rented out his land. Then he worked with his renter, but they just couldn’t make organic farming work economically, so his farmland is now farmed conventionally. The new farmer is now benefiting from 20 years of organic soil nurture: soybeans shoulder-high on a 6’ man. Matt said, “Norm, I think we will have some spots that will hit 100 bushels per acre” … and so it will always remain in my mind as I recall Matt.
I don’t think Matt gave that much thought to Heaven. He just assumed it. Matt was a here-and-now type of guy: “How can I nurture what God has given us, and how can I make this earth and all of God’s people better?”
I will miss him. We will all miss him.