Growing Something Greater

The worship community I belong to has started a community garden and I am involved in it. It has been a long process from planning, to building, to planting. This week we made our first donation to our local food pantry. We still have more growing to do- both in the garden itself and as a ministry, but seeing our plan come together has been such a joyful experience. Here are some of the lessons we have learned along the way.

We were very lucky when it came to having our raised beds built. One of our scouts volunteered to build the beds for us as his Eagle Scout project. It was a win-win as he earned his final rank and we did not have to plan, source materials for, or build the beds ourselves.

We did have to put a little work into finding recipients for our vegetables. We contacted our local pantry, and they are able to take produce as long as they have a day or two advanced notice. We also learned that the vegies have to be delivered early in the morning on the day food is distributed. In the case of our pantry, that is the third Friday and Saturday of the month. Knowing this was critical to planning when we would need volunteers for harvest and delivery. We also contacted Worcester County Food Bank (the regional distributor of food to local food pantries). They can take donations, including fresh vegetables, Monday through Friday. We’re keeping this information in mind for The Season of Zucchini. We might not be able to wait for the third week of August to harvest our squashes.

The most important part of the planning phase was getting the community interested. We put announcements in the weekly bulletin that is distributed at worship services. We asked congregation members who are known gardeners if they were able to help. We gave our ministry a catch name: The Garden of Feedin’. It seems to have worked, because so many hands have already helped us in our ministry.

With the raised beds taken care of, and the ultimate recipients of the produce determined, we started prepping for the growing season. First, we needed to upgrade our soil. We were given a budget which we were going to use for bagged compost, then we found out one of our fellow congregants owns horses. Also, the congregation has a Men’s Group that enjoys doing landscaping type projects. This was a huge score for the garden. The men removed some of the contractor-grade loam from the raised beds and replaced it with composted horse manure. One of the garden organizers brought her dog, who was very helpful.

For the future health of our soil we were able to source some compost bins. Our local recycling center gets these lovely bins very inexpensively through a grant-funded program. We got them for $25 each.

Best of all, our grounds keeper was able to help us with watering. He re-directed the lawn sprinkler system to hit all the raised beds. This was a huge help, as getting volunteers to water each day would be difficult.

We held meetings (via the internet, because that is how things are done these days) prior to planting to work out what we would plant and who would physically acquire the seeds/seedlings. We were told we would be reimbursed by the congregation, but it can be difficult to front the money for some items, so we split things up amongst our core volunteer crew.

Before we knew it, it was early April, and our first planting day! We has started some cold weather crops- beets, kale, carrots, and bok choy, from seed. We planted the seedings and the seeds during one of the congregation’s regularly scheduled Family Play Dates. I was worried that the presence of very young children would plunge us into chaos. However, the youngsters were very happy to help plant. When their attention spans for gardening were inevitable spent, they ran off to play. In the mean time, we had older and younger congregants interacting, which is always a good thing. The early seedings did not do so well in the variable spring weather, but the seeds took off. Soon, The Garden of Feedin’ was full of life.

Our second planting day, in mid-May, was not as well attended, as the weather was against us (which we are used to, because this is New England). We got tomato, pepper, and herb plants in our remaining two beds. We also did a good deal of weeding, since the seedlings were now large enough that we could identify them as “not-weeds”. All you experienced gardeners know what I mean.

And then, this week, it was distribution week for the food pantry and we had a big harvest of kale and bok choy for them. The bok choy had bolted, but it was edible. We might re-think planting it next year. The local volunteers could not identify it, which makes me think the local recipients would not be familiar with it, either. I also brought some sprigs of herbs- basil, oregano, cilantro, and mint- in labeled snack-size zippy bags. The volunteers were very happy to receive those, which makes me think the recipients will be, too.

So, in short, here are the community garden lessons we have learned from this process:

  • Do not underestimate the power of motivated youth.
  • Know where, and to whom, your produce will go before you plant.
  • Find ways to include as many people as possible. Your delivery volunteers do not need experience or skill at gardening.
  • Not everything you try will work. Try anyway, because you do not know what will work until you try.
  • Feeding your fellow humans is an astoundingly rewarding process. If you can do it…do it.

We have many lessons still to learn from The Garden of Feedin’. I am excited to learn those lessons. I am feeling blessed to be a part of a community that is so committed to this work. Have you participated in a community garden? What lessons did you learn? Share in the comments, because we can all learn from your experience.