Church opened up its garden to feed community

Published 10:29 am Friday, September 6, 2013

Vegetables start to sprout from the garden, with the church in the background. -- SUBMITTED

Vegetables start to sprout from the garden, with the church in the background. — SUBMITTED


FRANKLIN—The season of giving came early at High Street United Methodist Church, where 66 volunteers got together to provide fresh vegetables to local charities.

With its first Summer with Open Hearts Mission Garden, the volunteers produced close to a ton of food, with three rows of sweet potatoes to harvest in the fall, to the Franklin Cooperative Ministry and Oak Street Seniors.

“The older people, who are used to eating fresh vegetables, are very excited to get them,” said Becky Gillette, who is chair of the church’s council. “Fresh vegetables are really hard to get on a fixed income.”

Veronica Ferguson, of the Franklin Cooperative Ministries, said the garden has been a blessing.

“It started out as a plan to see how it worked, and it just was an overwhelming success,” she said. “I don’t think they realized, and neither did I, that we were so blessed with the weather and everything connecting, and they had this huge volume of produce.

“Our clients were very appreciative because you can get frozen and canned vegetables at a food bank, but fresh vegetables are not usually available.”

She said the fresh vegetables were so popular, that she couldn’t keep it in stock, despite the good harvest. The harvest has been good with helping provide people with nourishment, Ferguson said.

“When you are struggling to pay the rent and the light bill, food is where you have to cut,” she said. “People would get them to make fresh tomato sandwiches, and we had a whole lot of potatoes, but we’ve given them all out.”

The idea came from Shalom Farms, which is a non-profit sustainable farm created by the United Methodist Urban Ministries of Richmond. Its director, Dominic Barrett, even came to speak to the committee responsible for the Open Hearts Mission Group.

“It is a program that provides fresh vegetables to people with no access to it,” Pastor John Ashley said. “The seed was planted for us.”

And so they tilled their garden, out near the miles of fields behind the church, and planted vegetables in half of it.

“We did not want to bite off more than we could chew in our first year,” said the pastor.

Soon, the yield would come, and they would produce 446 pounds of cucumbers, 126 heads of cabbage, which can weigh up to 3 pounds a head, 200 pounds of squash, 519 pounds of potatoes, 159 pounds of tomatoes and 49 broccoli bunches, which can weigh more than a pound a bunch. Tomatoes are still growing in the garden, and three rows of sweet potatoes will be harvested later.

“It went amazingly well,” said Ashley. “We had such a great rain this summer, probably the best in 40-50 years.”

In his many years involved in the ministry, he had never seen an organized effort like this.

“I don’t know that I can name something that 66 people said they would help with,” Ashley said. “And it was intergenerational — people 3 years old to 70 volunteered.”

Gillette said one of the missions of the church is to give back to the community because thanks to a generous donation, their church was given to them.

“We try to create more outreach, more missions in our own community,” she said.

Gillette said she had a good time volunteering.

“It was the first time to get up and go do something since I retired, and I loved it,” she said. “Sandy Spengeman and I were roommates in college, and I never see her even though she lives across the street, but we had a great time picking together.

“It is a great project, and it brought us closer and closer together.”