Pastor nourishes plants as well as parishioners

In the tiny farming community of Conetoe, North Carolina, a pastor with a passion for saving both body and soul has been named one of 10 finalists for CNN’s Hero of the Year award.

Rev. Richard Joyner says a large percentage of his parishioners in this predominantly African-American community of just 300 were suffering (and dying) from preventable, diet-related diseases. “Diabetes, high blood pressure—when we first got started, we counted 30 funerals in one year,” Joyner told CNN. “I couldn’t ignore it because I was spending more time in funerals than anything else.”

He knew a community garden with fresh produce (Conetoe’s nearest grocery store was 10 miles away) would help residents build better health, so he started a small garden with the help of local school kids. Today, Conetoe sports more than 20 garden plots, one covering 25 acres, providing 50,000 pounds of fresh produce a year. Student helpers also sell the produce to local restaurants and stores to raise dollars for school supplies and scholarships. And the kids are learning more than gardening—they’re involved in every aspect of the project, from planning the plots to marketing to learning how to cook healthy meals for their families. And parishioners are healthier. “By nourishing plants, you’re nourishing community,” Joyner told CNN. “It’s one and the same.”

Find out more and watch a video about Rev. Joyner and the community garden project: