On the first Saturday of March, we planted our spring crops at Selah Community Garden of Center UMC: carrots, lettuce, spinach, potatoes, broccoli, cabbage, and more. This is our second year, and just like last year, there was beautiful weather in the weeks leading up to our kick-off. Then things got cold. Again. Just like last year. With temperatures once again dropping below freezing during the night, I have once again found myself passing by the garden with hopeful and desperate eyes: did the transplants survive the night? Are the seeds sprouting yet? Will the seeds sprout?
At my first meet and greet with the Pastor/Parish Relations Committee at Center, led by my new District Superintendent, I was very surprised when he prompted me with, “Jarrod, why don’t you tell them your plan for a church garden?”
Y’see, I didn’t have a plan for a church garden. I knew it was something I wanted to do in the future, but had no intention of starting it in my first year as pastor here. Really, I saw it coming up maybe around year three, after relationships and trust had been built. I don’t know what I said in that first meeting, but it stuck: as soon as I arrived as the Pastor, questions were thrown my way: when are we going to start the garden? Where’s the garden going to be? What are we going to grow in the garden?
So I found myself in this position of high expectation and no plan. Not only no plan, but no experience. While I’ve gardened on my own for years, I’ve never organized a community garden before. Not only no experience, but no resources. I was brand new to the community, I had no idea where to go to get the things we would need or how we would pay for them.
With no plan, no experience, and no resources, I did what I always do: prayed, read, asked questions, and listened. I did something else, too, something I don’t normally do: I started. With no plan, no experience, and no resources, I started making Selah Community Garden. I had confidence that God wanted this here, and an assurance that what God wants, God makes happen.
We had our first garden meeting at the end of Summer, 2016. There I met Matt, a church member who owned a nursery and made us an offer: any started plants we wanted, he’d give. We had plants.
To do the type of raised beds we wanted, we needed wood mulch and compost. Hurricane Matthew hit North Carolina that October and our local municipal mulch and compost facility found themselves overflowing with wood chips and compostables from all the downed trees. They did something they have never done before and have assured me they never will again: they gave it all away, first come first serve. Another church member donated his dump truck and time and brought us two full loads of compost and two full loads of mulch. We had a garden.
A concern was brought before the church board that the garden would run up the church’s water bill and add another drain on our already-stretched budget. We were given access to the old church well. We had water.
The Thursday before our first planting last year, I stood out by the garden, looking it over and thinking through all the things that had come together to make it happen, the time and materials and sweat that had been given to this patch of earth. I thought about the seeds sitting in my office and realized I had forgotten to get potatoes and onions. Then Clarence, a church member who can see the garden from his front window, came walking up. “Pastor, I’ve been thinking,” he said to me, “and I think this is great and it’s going to be a blessing. We want to be a part of this. Can we donate some potatoes and onions for the garden?” We had potatoes and onions.
So we put those potatoes and onions in the ground. We put the seeds and the started plants in the ground. We watered them. It froze. We waited. And they all grew.
As the crops began coming in, we had to decide what to do with the harvest. Would we sell it? Start some sort of CSA? Let our volunteers take it with them? Should we measure volunteer hours and award points and let you cash in those points for potatoes?
But then we considered this: everything in that garden had been given to us. The soil, the water, the seeds, the plants, all of it was given to us. Why not follow God’s lead, and give away the produce?
In Genesis 1:29 God says to human beings, “See, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit; you shall have them for food.” All food is a gift, and is intended to express to us God’s love and God’s provision. That is the theological foundation of Selah Community Garden: it is a gift given to us, so that we might give to others.
Though the nights have been cold and the days have been cloudy since our planting a few days ago, I am confident that the plants will grow, I am confident that the produce will produce, I am confident that we will soon open our free produce stand once more, because I trust the Giver.