When Farming and the Church Come Together

This reflection comes to us from AJ Bisesi, Community Engagement Coordinator for Garfield Community Farm, a ministry of The Open Door Presbyterian Church.

AJ washing lettuce.

Getting produce to our neighbors is an integral tenet of our organization’s mission. We distribute produce in multiple ways, including donating. Valley View Presbyterian Church, one of our church partners from the very beginning, and a beloved church of Garfield neighborhood, has a food bank ministry, Isaiah’s Kitchen. In prior years, this involved a monthly food distribution that would serve anywhere from 60 to 120 households per month. The farm has always donated produce to be included with the food distributed. With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, however, the ministry of Isaiah’s Kitchen exploded. Starting in the end of March, Valley View started doing weekly food deliveries in addition to their monthly larger distribution. Soon, the church went from serving 80 households a month to over 350 households.

Lisa passing out heirloom tomato seedlings.

In response to this heightened need, the farm also increased their donations, contributing produce on a weekly basis. Most weeks, we were able to harvest enough for 20 households. In our most abundant weeks, our produce reached over 50 households. Produce that we donated included: gourmet lettuce mixes, kale, collards, tomatoes, sweet peppers, hot peppers, herbs and more. Not only were we able to donate produce, but farm staff and volunteers made the effort to assist in the distributions themselves.

Most often this involved simply dropping off a box of food on a doorstep or handing a box of food through a car window. One week through, our Seasonal Apprentice, Lisa Freeman, distributed around 250 heirloom tomato seedlings with a special message from the farm staked in each pot. The message read: “We love you. We are praying for justice.”

Phyllis and her tomato harvest.

One of the recipients of the seedlings was Phyllis Connor, a Garfield resident from birth who lives only a block from the farm and is a neighbor of the farm’s Community Engagement Coordinator. She was delighted! She had never grown any vegetables before, laughingly telling the Community Engagement Coordinator that her grandmother had had a garden but forbid any of the children from helping out because her grandmother assumed that they would destroy something.

Phyllis lovingly planted her seedlings in 5-gallon buckets on her front porch. She sang to her tomato seedlings every day and was ecstatic when the first tomatoes ripened. Phyllis, with her first tomato harvest, is pictured on the right. We’ve tripled our donations in 2020, distributing around 600lbs of local produce and 250 seedlings to hundreds of households in and around the neighborhood of Garfield.

The work of the Presbyterian Hunger Program is possible thanks to your gifts to 

One Great Hour of Sharing.