August 9, 2016
A trip to Haiti and a community conversation planted a seed at Grace Covenant Presbyterian Church that is bringing fresh vegetables and fresh hope to Asheville, North Carolina.
In January 2009, church member Bill Gettys traveled to Haiti to work on a project in the medical laboratory of Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) mission co-worker Jenny Bent. While there, Bill learned about the agricultural work of Jenny’s husband, Mark Hare, who is also a PC(USA) mission co-worker. When Gettys returned home, he enthusiastically introduced the church to Hare’s garden program.
That October, Grace Covenant hosted a forum on health care needs in the community. Discussion eventually focused on how the congregation could contribute to the wellness of the community surrounding the church. After identifying potential community partners and acquiring the necessary approvals, tilling began on the garden on the church lawn at the end of January 2010.
Here’s how the program works: at the beginning of the growing season, about 40 church and community members divide into four teams to till, plant, weed, and harvest crops on alternating weeks. Summer crops vary from beans, squash, and eggplant to peppers and tomatoes. In the fall, the teams plant cool weather vegetables. The volunteers box and deliver about 75 percent of the vegetables to local food pantries and community kitchens.
Then-pastor Mark Ramsey was supportive from the beginning and received approval from the session. Everyone liked the idea, but there was some hesitation about digging up the church lawn to plant vegetables. Some suggested that the garden might be in the back, hidden from the road. Ramsey said firmly that if the church was going to undertake the project, it was going to be front and center. And the Community Garden was born.
Associate pastor Kristy Farber has been equally supportive. “The church often uses words or metaphors, which are important, but so is this ministry of substance and sustenance, offering nurture to body and soul in a way that goes beyond words. Just like the gospel this ministry shines a light that conquers the darkness of at least this little corner of the world,” she says.
In the spring of 2014, children’s ministry coordinator Heather Gast and long-time member Otis “Buzz” Durham talked about the possibility of creating a version of Mark Hare’s yard garden to get children and families involved. Durham, retired from the U.S. Forest Service, had been to Haiti and worked alongside Hare.
“Our World Garden is modeled on Mark’s work in Haiti,” Durham says. “It is one way we have found that gives us a foundation to join hands with the young and old. The garden was built by our K–8 children over a period of several days in the spring. Then in the fall we added to the garden during an overnight camp on the church lawn. The garden is tended by families throughout the growing season.”
After workshops that included tire cutting and soil preparation, a tire garden was born, with miniature garden plots inside discarded tires. In Haiti’s dry season, there is no rain for five to seven months and food can become scarce. The small tire gardens allow families to grow food during that time.
Using the same techniques Hare teaches in Haiti, the children planted lettuces, herbs, cabbage, eggplant, and carrots. This wasn’t a project in which the adults worked and the children watched. A drip irrigation system was researched, designed, and built by a 13-year-old and a crew of church members. In the fall, the tires were planted with kale, spinach, and collard greens.
Gast said working together in the garden has given families an activity they can enjoy together. “So many service projects force us to choose something that is appropriate for either adults or children. This garden allows children of every age to be involved and provides a rich experience for families,” she said. “It’s a beautiful thing.”
Kathy Melvin, Director of Mission Communications, Presbyterian Mission Agency
Today’s Focus: Presbytery of Western North Carolina
Let us join in prayer for:
Rev. Barbara White, General Presbyter
Anita Bernhardt, Associate Presbyter
Rev. Dr. Charles Davenport, Associate Presbyter
Barbara Ross, Associate Presbyter
Beth Gunn, Associate for Youth
Rev. Dr. Cameron Murchison Jr., Stated Clerk
PC(USA) Agencies’ Staff
Let us pray
Lord Jesus, thank you for calling us and giving us the strength to respond, not only with words, which fade, but also with our lives. We are grateful that you allow us to be your hands and witness in our communities and throughout the world. Help us to hear your voice for the changes you want us to make. Amen.