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Growing Community in the Garden . . . and beyond.

Growing Community in the Garden . . . and beyond.

At First UMC in Rowlett, TX, the Community Garden is celebrating its second year by growing its reach beyond the families doing the gardening.  Last year, the congregation came together to cultivate sixteen plots alongside a large garden that had been farmed by the emeritus pastor for years.  This year, the gardeners will be growing for their own families as well as families in need.  Also, they have formed a Community Supported Agriculture partnership with two young farmers.

“I’ve really been thinking about issues of food justice for a few years.  I was volunteering at the food pantry and I realized that the only thing I saw that was green was the labels on the cans,” said David Thomas, coordinator for the Buist & Violet Wilson Community Garden at First Rowlett.  “I thought that if I could get our families involved in organic gardening, they would begin to have a better connection to where our food is coming from.”

First Rowlett congregants are connected to a New Day community that includes recent refugees from West Africa and some of whom participate in the garden as well.  At the apartment complex where they live, New Day Director Wes Magruder observed that some issues of food insecurity were beginning to emerge.

"Refugees only have a small amount of cash to begin their lives in America," he said. "Many refugee families are quite large, and they find it difficult to feed everyone. We've had families show up to our worship gatherings who had nothing in their refrigerators or pantries. We have begun collecting canned and dried food in a makeshift food pantry in one of the apartments in the complex, so that we can distribute items as soon as we know there is need.  Having fresh produce to offer will be a welcome addition to our stock."

Last year, families planted an assortment of vegetables, herbs and berries that they planned to consume themselves.  This year, many of them are overplanting calorie-dense produce, like sweet potatoes, to share with the New Day food pantry.

A new partnership with a nearby farm will provide the families and the pantry with the freshest produce all summer long.  Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) creates a unique opportunity for farmers to enjoy a guaranteed market for their crop and working capital for the growing season.  The gardeners selected Spring Fed Farms in nearby Terrell, Texas and have enjoyed getting to know Josh & Avery Singleton, the young couple who are doing the farming.

Josh quotes Genesis 1:11 and comments, “It’s incredible that my job requires complete reliance that He will make the seed we plant grow.  It’s not about making money but being a part of His creation on a daily basis and sharing it with others.”  Even his hashtags reflect his deep commitment to his calling:  #farmon #farmlife #lovinglife #lifehasmeaning.

The families who invest in the Singleton’s farm pay for the season’s produce in advance. Then, once a week, the farmers deliver their shares to the Community Garden.  The families share in the bounty, as well as the risk.  There are no guarantees on what will be delivered each week and how long the growing season will last.  In fact, there are no guarantees that the crop won’t be wiped out by unforeseen circumstances.  That’s how farming goes!  And it’s a reminder that our food does not originate at the grocery store.  Real people are working the land and low-wage workers are picking it and transporting it to our stores.

Because the Community Garden has agreed to become a distribution point for the area, the farm will contribute one free share that will go to the New Day community.  On pick-up day, the families will be encouraged to think about what their family will realistically eat from their share that week and contribute any extra to the New Day pantry.  Last year, Josh reports that they had an overabundance of tomatoes.

David Thomas hopes to share the success of the Community Garden at First Rowlett with other start-ups.  George Battle, an Epworth brother, recently completed a rooftop garden in an urban environment and has asked Thomas to consult on another garden in a blighted area that is widely recognized as a food desert.  Also, the gardeners will be visiting other community gardens in nearby towns to get to know their neighbors and share techniques.

“We only have two rules in the garden,” Thomas said. “Keep it organic and get to know each other.”

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