Just One Small Push [Cart] Starts a Ministry
Dotting Highway 30A, the roughly 30-mile stretch between Destin and Panama City, Florida, are “mom-and-pop” businesses, celebrity beach houses, and—in recent times—people cooling off with sweet avocado-lime ice pops from Swell Pops. David Huffman, a current GFES student, and wife Haylee Huffman, a GFES alumna, launched Swell Pops in January 2014 with a pile of fresh fruit, one small push cart, and a spirit of adventure.
Now, just more than one year after their launch, Swell Pops has three carts, one kiosk, and a handful of retailers peddling their ever-increasing array of ice-pop offerings. Blackberry Cream is a definite winner in Haylee’s book, while Mango Jalapeno is David’s favorite. In addition to the top-selling avocado, other flavors include lemon cayenne, orangesicle, chocolate peanut butter, watermelon kiwi, buttermilk, and coffee caramel. In keeping with the local culture's organic-and-sustainable vibe as well as Huffmans’ own values, Swell Pops chooses ingredients that are local, organic, and fresh. Everything—right down to the organic cane sugar and the goat milk that goes into their homemade caramel—is from Florida.
In a sense, mission trips inspired the Swell Pops idea. David led mission trips to Latin America during his young-adult life, and on those trips, paletas charmed him. Unlike the sugary, dyed popsicles most children in the U.S. grow up knowing, traditional paletas contain nothing more than pureed fruit. Why couldn’t this concept catch on in the U.S.?
Seminary coursework solidified David’s vision. In 2011 David became part of GFES’s online learning community, and a course in Christian Earthkeeping proved especially formative. The course caused him to think seriously about ecotheology, and about how it plays out in the food industry in particular.
After Destin residents expressed support of his business concept, David began serious planning. People’s Pops in Brooklyn shared encouraging start-up tips, as did other small U.S. companies pursuing the hand-crafted ice-pop trade. The industry was new, and the Destin area had nothing like it. David decided to move forward with it, and he’s glad he did. “You can’t be mad when you give a kid a popsicle,” he says with a grin. “It’s the funnest job.”
Given his entrepreneurial leanings as well as his sense of call to pastoral ministry, David states he and Haylee “always knew church planting was ‘in the cards’ for them.” What they did not know was that they would take the bi-vocational route. They now see Swell Pops as their “tent-making” venture, generating income to start Redeemer (their future church) and alleviating the stress of needing to rely on the offering plate to sustain it.
Through Swell Pops, the Huffman’s are also building rapport with locals. “The demographic wouldn’t want a ‘franchise’ of a church,” David shares. But as they stand in line to order strawberry balsamic Swell Pops, people who know David’s background ask if he has thought about starting a Bible study or church. And when local business owners who have never attended church talk with David about business, he shares Swell Pops’ biblically based company principles. In light of these opportunities, David muses that Swell Pops might have always had a more significant place in God’s plan than what David and Haylee envisioned. This excites David, and causes him to look to the future and say, “I’m stoked about it!”
- Sierra S. Neiman