News Story

Christian Farm Family's State Training Contract Canceled for Prayers, God

Social welfare program exposes low income individuals to horticulture

Editor's note: This story has been updated with comments from the United States Department of Agriculture.

A family of Lake City farmers lost its $20,000 state contract to teach low-income women how to grow and prepare food when officials terminated it because the curriculum mentioned God and instructors said prayers.

The farmers say the state still owes them more than $6,000 after the contract was terminated in May 2016. The farm is named 3rdDayFarm, which alludes to a statement in the biblical book of Genesis, which says that on the third day of creation, God populated the Earth with fruit and seed.

Jennifer Eisner, spokeswoman for the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, confirmed the state ended the contract in 2016 ”because the Farm refused [to] exclude prayer and religion as part of their training for low-income women on how to grow nutritious foods.” The contract was to provide services under a state social welfare and public health program called Wisewoman.

Robert Gothard, owner of the farm roughly 50 miles southeast of Traverse City, said that the family had contracted with the state for three years and no one complained to him about the prayers. Gothard said state officials showed up for the annual conference in 2016 and witnessed the family start the program with a prayer.

That’s when he was told that the contract wouldn’t be renewed if the instructors kept praying as part of the event and did not remove references to God from the curriculum. Gothard said the curriculum was a training manual the farm shared but never printed. When the family refused to abide by the no-religion clause, it received a letter terminating its contract.

The state program trained 35 participants over a 12-month period on matters such as soil biology, planting, pruning fruit trees, growing mushrooms and how to sell at a farmer’s market.

“We talked every aspect of growing,” Gothard said.

Gothard said he contacted the state attorney general and was told to get a lawyer.

The family says it sent a letter to Gov. Rick Snyder about the contract being terminated and four days later, the farm was visited by a United States Department of Agriculture inspector who threatened to shut it down for violations.

The family said it had to write that USDA inspector a check for $150 “on the spot” to get the license to store meat for more than 24 hours. The USDA inspector also asked for all passwords to personal email and social media accounts.

Nina Anand, spokeswoman for the USDA, said the farm didn't show up as one they inspect. She said the Gothard's may be confused as to whether it was a national or state inspector.