By Carol Erickson, garden coordinator for the Mount Morris (Ill.) Church of the Brethren
Plans for our garden at the Mount Morris Church of the Brethren began on a snowy evening in 2009. Experienced and rookie gardeners, church people, limited income adults, and curious individuals gathered to discuss planting 32 garden plots across the street from the church. We decided that this garden would be dedicated to growing produce for the Loaves and Fish Food Pantry. Five years later, the garden has become not only a place to grow food but a place to grow friendships.
Many individuals have helped plan and tend our community garden. In January, we gathered to share favorite hot dishes, pore over seed catalogs, and brainstorm ways to improve the garden. A local farmer offered his Japanese beetle-free farm for growing sweet corn and winter squash. Elderly residents of the Pinecrest Community grew seedlings of tomatoes, peppers, and herbs that were transplanted to the garden in May. In the spring, members of the church and community planted 50 pounds of potatoes, 20 asparagus plants, 20 new strawberry plants, and more.
The “Going to the Garden” grant from the Global Food Crisis Fund and the Office of Public Witness, which empowers congregations to start or improve community gardens, has helped us reach our goals. Thanks to the extra funds, we have improved access to water by purchasing hoses and instruments to collect rainwater off the church. We have increased productivity by building new frames to contain each plot of vegetables, and by installing cattle gates to support the growth of tomato plants. We have also strengthened the community aspect of the garden by painting two weathered picnic tables and adorning them with umbrellas for shade.
To further improve the community of the garden, we offer planned activities. Gardeners gathered in June at the Mount Morris Senior Center to can strawberry jam. Monthly potlucks allow gardeners to prepare tasty dishes and share from their garden’s abundance. The garden is also available for picnics.
By harvest time, our community garden will provide over 5,000 pounds of vegetables to the food pantry, and residents of Pinecrest Community will receive two deliveries of sweet corn. We are so thankful for the “Going to the Garden” grant. It has helped us grow healthy, fresh produce for many, and cultivate meaningful relationships. It has helped us come a long way since that first snowy night.