Yes, carrots can change the world. So can tomatoes, corn, beet greens, squash, peppers and garlic.
Five years ago, a healthy handful of church members — some with green thumbs and some without — at Bartlesville First Church in Oklahoma got on their knees, emptied seed packets and dug their hands into the dirt. They were growing an idea: the idea of having a community garden.
It’s no coincidence that more than 30 volunteers planted the first radishes, turnips and cucumbers on Change the World Day in 2010.
May 17-18 marked the fifth annual Change the World event — a denomination-wide effort encouraging local congregations to show that God is at work in communities. United Methodists go outside the walls of their sanctuaries and help others in their neighborhoods by doing everything from park cleanups and school repairs to bringing meals to senior citizens and stocking food pantries.
It was Bartlesville’s mission committee that first decided to turn a quarter-acre of cow pasture into the “Garden of Eatin'.” They set the land aside after buying 64 acres on which to build. Since then, more than 30 people have kept their hands in the soil.
“We saw the new land as a corner of the world where we could make a difference,” said C.J. Shell, one of the original supporters of the garden. “Change the World gave us the time, the excuse and the people to get it all done and to make it into a project that will last.”
“Without Change the World, we wouldn’t have gotten it off the ground so quickly.”
The plot has survived drought, floods and hot temperatures, but bounces back year after year with even bigger harvests than the year before.
“The first year we brought in 840 lbs.,” said Jay Sinnes, master gardener. “The second year yielded 2,420 lbs; the third 4,270; and last year 5,020 1lbs.”
The project required more than just dirt. They installed an 8-foot fence to keep out the deer and poultry wire to keep out the rabbits. Raised beds were constructed and filled with mushroom compost, sandy loam topsoil and gypsum. Irrigation was installed, but one year when the pond went dry, they hauled water and found a storage tank.
“We’ve always thought of it as a project to do the best we could do—to do as much good as (we) could until it was no longer of value,” Sinnes said.
Teaching others, serving those in need
At first, it was more of an educational project. Greenery-deprived folks could have a plot to putter with their tomatoes. Retired members could take up a hobby. Families could get dirty together. Master gardeners could teach classes. The local 4-H could grow vegetables to enter in contests at the county fair. Last year, one of their eggplants won.
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For Change the Weekend, United Methodists around the world do everything from collecting bicycles and helmets for people who are transportation-challenged to having a fishing tourney to raise money for malaria prevention.
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The teaching aid evolved from being about agriculture to being about feeding the hungry. The real harvest was providing fresh food for Bartlesville neighbors who relied on homeless shelters, food banks and once-a-week dinners to take care of their appetites. Little did the volunteer gardeners know they would be feeding hungry diners with food that sparked so many fond childhood memories--especially about vegetables like kohlrabi, chard and potatoes for soup.
Often, it was children and youth who made all the sweating and sore backs worthwhile. Everyone agreed it was important schoolchildren receive a visual and hands-on experience.
Connie Ellis said many kids were flabbergasted to learn where carrots come from, even though the kids ate them in their lettuce salads.
Although she still won’t claim to have a green thumb herself, Ellis has found a way to grow through her new know-how.
“Once you’re out there smelling the dirt and feeling the sun on your face, you feel God’s presence,” Ellis said. “And when you see the looks on faces of people you are helping to feed, you realize it is you who has received the true gift.”
*Passi-Klaus is a public relations specialist/writer at United Methodist Communications. This story was originally published on May 15, 2014.
Contact: Susan Passi-Klaus, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5138 or firstname.lastname@example.org.