Grace United Methodist Church in Piedmont, South Dakota, offers community garden space to individuals in the neighborhood. The church provides soil and regular watering. In exchange, people grow produce and are invited to give some of that produce back to a friend or neighbor in need or to the community food bank.
The garden ministry started with a 30-foot by 30-foot garden. In the years since, it has grown to 30 by 120 feet, and community garden plots are 15 feet by 15 feet, 12 feet by 20 feet, and 16 feet by 3-foot raised beds. There are even raised beds that are shorter and are handicap accessible.
"We wanted to make it a place to come to instead of just a garden. We have held three events this summer for people to gather," said Rev. John Britt, Grace UMC.
Pastor John received a grant from the South Dakota State University Extension Service to make it more than just a community garden.
"Instead of people just coming and doing their hour of weeding or tending to the garden and going home, we have held three events that draw folks together," said Pastor John. "We started with a Gardening 101 class. We had a master gardener come to the church. We invited folks to come. It was before planting season. They talked about soil qualities, when and what to plant, and answered questions."
In the second event, the same master gardener met with people in the gardens during the growing season. Community members were invited to ask questions about their gardens and explore answers.
"People came and would ask questions like, 'Why are my leaves yellow? Why is this? Why is that?' They talked, shared, and answered questions," said Pastor John. "At the end of the season. We had a food preservation workshop."
Cindy Burris led the food preservation workshop that the community was invited to at the church.
"We did a mass mailing. The workshop was from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. We had a free lunch. People brought the produce they wanted to preserve. Everybody pitched in and helped each other," Pastor John shared.
Everyone took home the produce they preserved. They also exchanged with each other.
"There was this little exchange that naturally happened as people got done. People went home with more variety than what they brought. There was extra produce that was fresh from the garden. Whatever didn't get used, people took that home with them. We had extra jars, so many people took extra jars home with them," said Pastor John.
Recipes were shared. People are looking forward to joining in the events next year.
"One of the gals that came to the food preservation workshop came to church the next day. It was cool to see her there," Pastor John said. "We look forward to continuing the relationship with her and the entire community."
Grace UMC has a garden plot, a 30 x 120 plot. Most of the produce, 98% from the church garden, is given away to one of four community organizations—Cornerstone Rescue Mission, Women's and Children's Home, Piedmont Food Bank, and Abbott House.
Don and Cherie Hilton are the primary caretakers of the garden. They invite people to help every Wednesday night and Saturday morning. Volunteers weed and pick the produce.
"We estimate that we give away 1,000 pounds of produce each season. Volunteers will pick two grocery bags of green beans and one and one-half bags of tomatoes in one evening. We help and connect with many people," said Pastor John.
Elementary students who attend the afterschool program at Grace UMC on Mondays will use some of the produce at the kitchen station. Art with a Heart, a middle school program, happens on Tuesdays after school. This year, the middle school students are focusing on God's creations. They head to the garden to look at different parts of creation, see God's designs, and then create pencil sketches.
"We have a lot of people with passion. I am inviting people to be part of a Fresh Expressions Team, to have their passion sparked to do something," said Pastor John.
Fresh Expressions Imagine Day | September 30
What is God already doing in people’s lives and how do we join in? That question is the premise of the Fresh Expressions movement. Rev. Dr. Michael Beck wants to help you explore it and take tangible steps to reach new people in your community. Your first step? Register for Imagine Day on Sept. 30, and bring a team!