Sharing Gifts

GRANBURY, TX — Ben and Margret Fields have never been hungry.

Still, their hearts go out to people who are. So the Fields grow fields of fresh produce and give the harvest away to food banks. They also give away vehicles — and counseling. Margret, a licensed professional counselor for over 10 years, is currently studying for her master’s in divinity at Brite School of Divinity at Texas Christian University.

1014granBen runs an auto repair shop in Fort Worth. They believe in using whatever resources, gifts and talents come to them naturally to aid those in need. Employing one experienced organic farmer, who offered his services when he discovered their mission, the Fields operate as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization called Project-44. The name is inspired by the 44th book in the Bible, and Ben and Margret endeavor to live their lives the way the early Christians did in the Book of Acts. Acts 2:44 actually records that those believers sold their property and gave their possessions for the communal good.

On many levels, that is what Ben and Margret have done. What had begun unofficially years earlier as a car ministry with Ben continually giving away spiffed-up vehicles his customers no longer wanted, officially became Project-44 in 2008. “A lot of people fall into the category of spiritual, but not religious,” Margret said. “They understand simple principles, love God and love others, which we try to show in what we do.” Project-44 evolved into a car ministry plus community garden in 2009, after Margret’s father died. As a memorial, they used her inheritance to build 14 raised-bed gardens in Fort Worth and gave the food away to the community. One day, Joann Clemens offered the Fields use of her 50-acre farm in Granbury to expand their operation. “We’ve been friends with Joann forever,” Margret said. “This farm is where Ben and I got married 20 years ago.”

“At our wedding, we were not Jesus freaks,” Ben said. Margret did not grow up in a Christian home nor go to church. After they married, they entered a traditional lifestyle. “We’d go to church on Sunday and then go do our own thing during the week.”

In 2007, they began rethinking what being a Christian could be. After several accidental car-gifting opportunities, they talked about how to make the same thing happen purposefully and repeatedly. “We decided our first effort would be to take a grant-writing class at Tarrant County College,” said Ben, whose associate degrees in auto technology and diesel technology prepared him to run a successful business serving customers of every economic level, including the wealthy. But the benefit of those connections had not yet dawned on him. Ben’s faith grew through what happened next. “God walks up and kisses me right on the face every now and then,” he said, explaining that while sitting in a day-long class taught by Mary Fulbright, “an extremely stern retired nun,” she made reference to a few specific people in Fort Worth. Ben’s mouth fell open, because he happened to have a $1,000 check from one of them in his drawer at the shop. “I wrote God Thing at the top of my handout.” Within days, he received an unsolicited call from a stranger, whose name he’d highlighted on that handout.

She invited Ben to apply for a grant from Christ Chapel Church, whose pastor had a friend who was one of Ben’s customers and had overheard him excitedly brainstorming about the car ministry. “One of my friends and I had decided not to change or cut our hair until we changed the world. I showed up at Christ Chapel looking like that,” Ben said, “and they gave us $12,000 and made two videos for us!” Project-44’s first donated car came from a man who was at that meeting. The Volvo needed quite a bit of work, but repairing cars is one of Ben’s gifts. During 2008, Project-44’s first official year, the Fields’ goal was to give away 10 cars, and they ended up providing 12. Since then, they’ve given away 30 cars per year, totaling 200 to date. By 2013, Margret had been appointed to ministry at Acton United Methodist Church. Her proximity positioned Project-44 to give away 25 cars in six weeks to people from Rancho Brazos Estates after the tornado. “Not just materially,” she said, “but spiritually we lent to people knowledge that in the midst of something terrible, God does provide.”

Ben sees everything as provision. He repurposed redwood planks, sitting in his father’s garage for over 25 years, to build a tree house in a huge Live Oak in the midst of the Project-44 gardens. Here, children play while their parents volunteer to weed the fields and harvest huge amounts of organic produce. “The thing that bothers me,” Ben said, “is many times you’ll see people struggling for food and all the kids are fat. People assume they’re not missing meals, when in reality they’re only able to get mostly starch and orange soda water. So those kids are having health problems and early onset diabetes. They’re struggling in school and unable to do better. Those people don’t have access to healthy produce.”

The 2.5-acre Project-44 farm in Granbury grows every seasonal vegetable you can think of. Summer harvests include burgundy okra, green peppers, cucumbers, squash, tomatoes, beets, chard, potatoes and onions. Fall harvests are providing sweet potatoes, butternut and acorn squash, as well as greens. This winter, thanks to the hydroponic garden Guy Cameron created under a greenhouse canopy, Project-44 will give away lettuces and green leafy vegetables. They also raise and share already-processed pheasant, turkey and other fowl. “We give eggs away, too — 50 per day,” Margret said. Local people can get weekly supplies of nutritious food from Ruth’s Place, the Christian Service Center at Granbury Church of Christ, Mission Granbury, People Helping People, First Methodist Church food distribution and Tolar United Methodist Church. Volunteers from those organizations come weekly to Project-44’s walk-in cooler where daily harvests are stored. “They can take whatever they think they can distribute,” Ben said. “Everything needs to be eaten. I don’t want any to go to waste.”

Life for Ben and Margret is extraordinary, now that they’ve acted on their desire to serve those in need. “I work about four times harder than my normal inclination to work, because I’m basically a lazy person, but I’m happier than I’ve ever been all my life,” she said. “There are obviously days when it’s hot and we’re sweaty, but it’s not drudgery.” “When you stand up and agree to do what God’s asked you to do,” Ben said, “then He does all the heavy lifting.” “God walks up and kisses me right on the face every now and then.”

Written by Melissa Rawlins.