HESPERIA • Every Tuesday morning at the crack of dawn, Jim Hill arrives at his squash farm greeted by the smiles and laughter of eager volunteers.
Before setting off into the fields, the group of volunteers talk amongst themselves in the brisk morning air as comfortably as if they were relatives at Thanksgiving dinner. From small children bursting with anticipation and energy to reserved Chinese exchange students, the volunteers are as diverse as the larger population.
Bounded together by a mission to feed the community, Hill had unwittingly created a community of his own.
However, there hasn't always been so many willing helpers.
Back when Hill started Squash-4-Friends Farm three years ago, the retired sheriff's sergeant was a one-man crew. Operating solely on donations and money out of his pocket, the farm would soon find a special place in the High Desert. After a year of giving out his squash to charities, organizations and anyone else who was interested, the number of volunteers steadily rose.
"I really appreciate what he started," said Rhonda Daly, who has found a passion for the farm after only volunteering for a month.
Jeff Cuison, one of the first volunteers to help on the farm, can also appreciate all the help that has presented itself. After having predicted ample production, Cuison was worried there was not going to be enough help. But when car after car showed up to help one of the first Tuesday mornings of the season, he knew it would be a special year.
"It was a 'field of dreams' moment," Cuison said.
Loyal volunteers come back each week to harvest the crops, but seem to take home more than just squash and cucumbers. Whether coming to represent a church, socialize or have an educational experience, everyone has their own reasons for lending a helping hand.
"Don't pick the green ones, pick the yellow ones," a woman explains to her homeschooled child, who is just one of several parents that find the farm a great way to teach their children healthy eating habits.
"It shows them how to be healthy," Daly said. "You don't have to have fast-food every day."
Ying Shi and Si Si Zhao are Chinese exchange students who were taken away by the generosity of the farm. Both women picked up squash and cucumbers with fascination, capturing every moment on camera. After only being in America for a little more than a week, the farm served as a learning experience about the American culture.
"It's very meaningful," said Zhao, a student in China at North Western Agriculture and Forest University.
It is easy to see that in only three short years the community has rewarded Hill's generosity with kindness of its own. Even Walmart has agreed to donate money directly to Squash-4-Friends Farm for each hour a Walmart employee volunteers.
Those interested in joining Hill and the rest of the volunteers can visit www.Squash4Friends.com for more information.