A shovel hadn’t hit the dirt and seeds hadn’t been sowed when Senior Pastor Dan Harrison, from the Winchester Church of Christ in Christian Union (W3CU), shared his vision for growing a community garden. Once his sermon was shared with his congregation, his vision quickly became a reality.
Partnering with the Adams County Creating Healthy Communities Program and other interested church members to develop a Garden Committee and garden plan, W3CU parishioners Joe Spurlock and Len Stapleton began working to see this vision through to completion. While having had a small garden last year, the Garden Committee’s plan involved increasing the space to include as many as 21 raised garden beds in front of the traditional garden plot, located across from the W3CU Church and their Compassion Ministry (a food and clothing pantry), along Tri-County Highway.
The idea behind the gardens was to give people access to healthy food by allowing local residents to “adopt” a raised bed to grow produce for their own families. The Garden Committee anticipated that people would be able to plant a variety of crops — tomatoes, a variety of peppers, cucumbers, okra, green beans, sweet potatoes, squash and corn.
While Spurlock and Stapleton are credited with getting the ball rolling on the community garden by constructing all of the raised beds, including two taller beds in the front of the area for easier access by people with disabilities, other parishioners were a tremendous help with the garden plan. Associate Pastor Chris Johnson assisted with marketing the garden to the food pantry participants, Joyce Porter was instrumental in assisting with planting and other gardening efforts, and Karen Hughes assisted with developing a PowerPoint presentation, developing a brochure, and various garden photography. Numerous donations from community and church neighbors were also integral to the success of the community garden. More than $3100 was received from the Adams County Creating Healthy Communities Program to pay for the lumber for the raised beds, various garden supplies/tools, and irrigation kits; Raines Farms donated numerous seeds and plants; Good Seed Farm donated seeds and plants; other donations were received from Links Evergreen Nursery, First State Bank, Baxla Tractor Sales, Winchester Ag, the Adams County Volunteer Day grant, and from a local farmer who donated much needed dirt to fill the garden beds.
Spurlock has a list of about 16 local families he regularly sends text messages to when there is produce needing picked and/or ready for pick up. Several church members help pick various produce and they have a table out front where anyone is welcome to stop and select what produce they want to take home. He does ask that they record what and how much they have picked up on a dry erase board attached to the Church’s garden building, just to monitor the type and amount of vegetables taken, for future planning reference.
“The unique thing about this community garden is that all of the 21 beds are available to the public to use, or ‘adopt”\’, as their own,” reported Debbie Ryan, Adams County Creating Healthy Communities Program (ACCHCP) Coordinator. “This year, some beds were ‘adopted’ and the remaining beds were planted by the church. Produce from these beds is then donated to local families who stop and pick it up and to those who come to the Compassion Ministry Food Bank each month,” continued Ryan. Ryan stated that this project was a perfect fit with the Creating Healthy Communities Program, as they are committed to preventing and reducing chronic disease, statewide, and are activating communities to improve access to affordable, healthy foods.
Marsha McCormick, OSU Extension-Adams County SNAP-Ed Program Assistant, provides various healthy nutrition education to folks who utilize the Compassion Ministry food pantry. Some of the education has been geared toward fresh produce that can be picked up from the community garden, along with recipes to take home utilizing these vegetables to make healthy meals for their families.
Tempe Stephens, a local resident who has a garden bed at the W3CU community garden, is a regular visitor to the garden. She says, “The garden produce helps me when my monthly food supply runs out.” Traveling to the community garden in her mobile wheelchair, Stephens was given one of the taller garden beds for her garden use. She, along with Winchester residents Betty and Ronnie Boldman, come to help pick vegetables and share them with neighbors.
“We have a lot of hope for our community,” Spurlock said. “It’s not going to feed everybody everything they need but they’ll know they can come here and get something healthy to eat.”
Next year, the Garden Committee plans to start marketing the beds as early as February, with the hope to get even more families interested in “adopting” their own garden bed and early enough that they can plant those early vegetables like lettuce, spinach, and broccoli. Anyone interested in securing a garden bed as their own for next year, please contact the W3CU Church secretary at (937) 695-0025.
When Len Stapleton asked Pastor Harrison if this garden stood up to the vision he had, the pastor replied, “It’s more than what I had envisioned.” To many of the people served by the W3CU community garden, it may just be free, fresh vegetables. To the Winchester Church of Christ in Christian Union, it is a bountiful harvest of compassion for their community.