Beautiful heads of neon green lettuce, tomatoes, squash, potatoes, green beans, carrots, chard, peppers, herbs, onions and cucumbers are filling up the one acre-garden at Green Valley Community Church.
“We have more than 20 acres here,” said Ginger Jacob, Community Care Director for GVCC. “We’re blessed with a great piece of property and we wanted to use it to help people raise healthy families.”
Jacob said the idea of growing a garden and sharing the produce with the community had been talked about for years, but it wasn’t until this year when church members noticed an upsurge in the numbers of their guests for Saturday breakfasts that all the pieces came together.
“Every Saturday, we offer a free hot breakfast to anyone who needs it,” said Jacob. “Now, because of the economy, we’re feeding 200 to 300 people each Saturday.” Breakfast guests may also pick out groceries from the church’s food closet and clothing from their clothes closet. “We partner with the El Dorado Food Bank to offer food to people in need but what was always missing was fresh produce.”
As Jacob explained, fresh produce is more expensive than dry goods and one of the first things to go off the grocery list when times get tough.
“My husband and I grew a garden last summer and I loved it,” said Jacob. ” I thought, if I can do this …” Sitting down with a core team of volunteers from the church, Jacob started dreaming. “We have a big congregation and a lot of people who have their own healthy gardens and farms. We drew on their knowledge and passion.”
The goal was to grow and provide produce for their Saturday guests. With the community need, the vision of producing fresh, beautiful produce so families can eat healthy, and a big piece of property, the stage was set. Volunteers set out the garden parameters, tilled soil, installed a drip system and planted crops.
“Front Yard Nursery has been amazing and really helped us with plants and fertilizer,” said Jacob. Another gentleman put up the fencing to protect the garden from animals. On Saturday, July 7, Green Valley Gardens harvested its first crop of lettuce and chard and gave it out to its Saturday guests.
“Some of our Saturday guests were even helping with weeding and fertilizing. It was so honoring watching our volunteers hand out the lettuce they’d grown and for them to be able to say, ‘This is what we grew,’” said Jacob. “This is their passion and a lot of the people involved in the garden were people in the church I hadn’t met before, because this is what they wanted to do.”
The produce is being grown organically, without chemicals. Volunteers built compost bins and all the peelings and vegetable matter from the kitchens who provide some evening meals in addition to Saturday breakfasts is being collected for compost. Wood chips from the stack of firewood the church gives away to those in need are added to the mix.
The garden team even shares recipes for those who aren’t used to cooking some of the produce. “People won’t take vegetables if they don’t know what to do with them,” said Jacob, “so we offer hints like how to cook the chard with olive oil and bacon.
“We started thinking we would just plant half the acre, but now we’ve got three-fourths of it planted and we’re putting in pumpkins for the fall. We’ve never done this before, so we don’t know how much we’ll get yet, but we’re planning on growing throughout the year.”
The garden group has long term goals for the project as well — teaching people how to grow their own gardens and to can their produce.
If there is more produce than the Saturday guests can use, the church plans to can some of it or share it with some of the transitional homes in the community it supports.
“This is a very generous community,” said Jacob. “People have offered manure for fertilizer, materials and their time to make this happen. We want to encourage other people to build gardens for the community.”
Contact Wendy Schultz at 530 344-5069 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @wschultzMtDemo on Twitter.