Mike Dickson grew up as an inner city kid in Ohio. From the ages of twelve to sixteen, he was associated with gangs. After moving to Frederick about thirteen years ago to work for his brother-in-law, Mike did landscaping in Potomac and DC.
“That got tiring for me. I wanted to start working and helping in the community more. I saw a way to do that through farming and through different agricultural endeavors that we’ve created to help the Frederick community.”
About nine years ago, the Seed of Life Nursery was born. “It’s all about planting a seed. A seed of hope. A seed of prosperity. We’ve got to nurture that and see it grow. So, that’s what we’re doing.”
Seed of Life Nursery: CSA & Sharing The Bounty
Mike used to grow flowers that were used in landscaping projects and fundraisers. The leftovers were planted in low-income neighborhoods with partnering Church IT.
“We would plant them in homes of folks who weren’t doing so well. When we did that, I always took vegetables out with me, too. And, I saw a bigger need in our community for food — more than flowers. So we started Seed of Life Nursery and CSA.”
Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) provides a direct connection between local farmers and consumers. Community members sign up to receive a share of the harvest. It’s not limited to produce, though. Farmers can join together to include a variety of food items.
Mike’s model called for “folks that could afford to pay would pay. Then we would go out and adopt families. Title I Elementary Schools, Social Services and WIC would refer families to us and we would provide food to those families to make sure they were taken care of, too.”
The Seed of Life Nursery became certified as a 501(c)(3) in 2010. It’s an idea that has come to fruition as a non-profit that combines nutrition and education. “We want to make sure people are fed fresh produce and eat well.
“We also want to make sure people can take care of themselves in the future. Not only take care of themselves but take care of the community. Take care and pass it forward. Make sure nobody goes hungry.”
The Community Steps Up To Help Fill The Plate
Mike wishes he could grow all of the food that’s needed “but we’re just not at that point yet. We’re able to harvest fruits and veggies out of our fields.”
Other local farmers around Frederick County, Washington County and Carroll County donate their seconds and leftovers. “They are able to pass to us things they can’t use or that they have too much of.”
The Maryland Food Bank is a major contributor every month. “Just recently, we’ve been working with Costco to be able to take food and bread from them every week and pass those out into the community.”
It’s a very broad community that includes a lot of senior centers, the Boys and Girls Clubs and even the Frederick Work Force Services. “If you’re looking for a job, it’s likely you don’t have a lot of money. We feed the folks who are looking for jobs.”
The Biggest Challenge Of Growing A Non-Profit
“Resources. Being a non-profit and being new in the non-profit world, we’ve always had the challenge of raising enough money to do what we do.”
Mike adds, “Ironically, I’m able to pass out over 250,000 pounds of food and do the farming projects and everything that I do on a limited budget of about $30,000 to $40,000 a year.” That’s incredible!
Mike hasn’t forgotten where he came from. “A lot of what I did as a kid kind of reflects in what I do now to make sure that kids don’t have to grow up that way.”
He wants to make sure “they have enough food and enough activities for themselves so they can stay out of trouble.” His whole heart is in it.
“I do this just because I love to do it. It’s a labor of love. I sweat, I bleed, I cry out in these fields. We need resources.
“If we could find more resources to feed more people, there wouldn’t be a lot of hungry people in Frederick County. It’s just a matter of tapping into that right now.”
Advice Mike Would Give Himself If He Could Turn Back The Clock
“Be more patient with people who don’t know what you’re doing and why you’re doing it. I’m a very compassionate and passionate guy about what I do.
“When people come off the cuff, like “why do you take care of people? They should be able to take care of themselves” — it kind of makes me a little angry.
“And, maybe sometimes I can be a little bit unpolitically correct about things,” he says with a hearty laugh. “I’m known for that.”
Some extra advice? “Be more advantageous in finding people who can help you. I think one of my biggest flaws is that I want to try to tackle everything on my own.”
‘Farmer Guy’ Is Making A Lasting Difference
Mike recalls organizing an event in Hillcrest Park about seven years ago. His local church helped with a barbecue and vendors came out.
At the end of the day, there was a raffle that included a bookbag and some school supplies among the donated items. He was approached by a small boy who told ‘farmer guy’ that he needed a bookbag for school.
That wasn’t all that he needed. “Farmer Mike,” he said, “I want to take food home to my mommy. Is that okay?” There was no adult there to help him take the food home. He had been left on his own in the park.
Mike helped him put a big box of food together and walked the little boy to his home. A half mile walk and three flights of stairs later, they were in a house that had practically nothing.
The child proudly told his expectant mother, “I want to make sure the new baby has food when he comes.” Mike knows, “It’s moments like that we’re able to instill something in a six-year-old boy.
“Just for that one moment that he wants to help his mom and his family. It’s the moment that really resonates with me and will touch me for the rest of my life.
“It’s gratifying to know that we touch people every day through our endeavors and what we do. It’s about planting seeds. I always say that. Metaphorically. Literally. It’s all about planting a seed.”
Mike continues, “If we can plant a seed in a young person and teach that young person to plant a seed in a field and nurture it and cultivate it, great things bloom from that.”
A Quote That Mike Lives By
“At the end of our lives, we will not be judged by how many diplomas we have received, how much money we have made or how many great things we have done.
We will only be judged by ‘I was hungry and you gave me to eat; I was naked and you clothed me; I was homeless and you took me in.’ – Mother Teresa
“That’s what I live by, man. If I can feed somebody…if I can give somebody a shirt..if I can make sure people are safe and in safe living conditions, that’s what I do.
“Not only am I the farmer out here, I’m the life coach. I am a stable individual in somebody’s life.” And, he’s so much more.
“A lot of times, especially with these children, I’m the father figure and I have to lead by example. I do what I do because it needs to be done.”
It Takes A Community To Build A Better Future
“I definitely believe that the seeds I plant in the young people and my community will be a bounty ten times more than we could ever imagine.”
Mike Dickson already does an amazing job but can do even more with more support, more funds and more hands. Help grow Seed of Life Nursery.
Become a CSA member! Feed other families while you feed your own.
Volunteer! Offer to give a hand to help with harvesting, food drops and more.
Make a monetary contribution. Seed of Life is a registered 501(c)(3) and your donations are tax deductible. No amount is too little or too big!
Mike Dickson, aka ‘Farmer Mike’
written by: Zanne Lamb-Hunt
Contents Provided by Frederick Advice Givers Podcast Episode #118: Eric Verdi Interviews Mike Dickson