By Blenda Copeland
If you’ve passed down 14th Street in Phenix City lately, you may have wondered what’s with the “Community Garden” sign in front of the plot beside Central Baptist Church. Yes, it is as advertised.
The estimated 30 foot by 75 foot non-fenced space was intentionally planted as a community garden earlier this year by members of the church. It’s a public, open access kind of garden.
“It is what it is,” said Shon Brackin, the church’s worship pastor, of what the garden has to offer.
What it was, as of last week, was a few rows of healthy-looking summer squash, pepper plants, okra, tomatoes, corn and cucumbers. Large, bold yellow squash flowers hinted at tender yellow squash that were developing.
At the moment, the garden was overflowing with a particular abundance of okra and also cucumbers. At least 20 cucumbers were given away the day before.
Pastor Jim Caldwell said he challenged the church’s small groups to develop mission projects, noting that the church could do more to impact its local neighborhood.
Melissa and Aaron Hatter, members of one of the small groups, pitched the idea about planting a community garden: there’s a food pantry nearby and people are always in need of fresh produce.
With the support of about five or six people giving $50 each toward the project and the sweat labor of the Hatters and other volunteers, the garden gradually came to fruition. The plot was tilled over and planting was completed in April.
“Overall, it’s been a great experience,” Brackin said.
Hatter, the small group member, said he dedicates about four to five hours a week, along with his wife, to tending the garden. He mourns the fact that he can’t dedicate much more time to the task.
Hatter estimated he’s probably talked to at least 20 people who’ve received vegetables already, and overall, probably more than 100 pounds of produce has been given away.
As this project continues putting down roots, the members of the church are sensitive to God’s leadership, noting that the garden’s success depends on financial donations, volunteer help to keep down the weeds and otherwise tend the garden.
“We’ll see what God wants us to do next year,” said Caldwell, the pastor.
Church members aren’t sure how long the garden project will last, but for now, the hope is to continue, if possible, into the fall season with plantings of autumn vegetables like greens.
Gradually, people are becoming aware of the garden and that it’s there for everyone.
During the first few harvests, Hatter said the garden yielded so much produce that he stood with bagged vegetables in hand alongside the sidewalks near the church and asked passersby if they’d like the free bounty. He’s even hung bagged vegetables on the doorknobs of residents in the immediate neighborhood surrounding the church. T
hat has opened the way to establishing new relationships. He is developing a rapport with one neighbor who has a disability and can’t get around very well. Such relationships are opening the door to the possibility of much more, which is the heart of the church’s project: to represent the body of Christ, Hatter said.
“We’ve been very blessed, and so far, it seems very well-received by the community,” Hatter said. He smiled as he pointed to the garden’s tomato plants, noting he’s rarely finding ripe tomatoes, which means somebody’s been picking them – something he’s glad to see. He hopes to get to the point that he comes out and doesn’t see any ripe produce lingering on the vines – because that means the community is benefitting from the garden.
Although the garden began and is maintained as a ministry project of the church, the pastor and members want the community to know that the church is open to help from the community.
Anyone interested in volunteering time, sweat labor in maintaining the garden, financial or material donations to keep the garden going is invited to contact the church for more information at (334) 298-0923 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.