OLD HICKORY, Tenn. (BP)–Members of First Baptist Church in Old Hickory, Tenn., plowed ground and sowed seeds this past spring in anticipation of a harvest of zucchini, squash, lettuce, radishes — and relationships.
It all started a little over a year ago as part of the church’s refocusing effort, Pastor Jud Hays said. A community needs task force started looking for ways God wanted the congregation to reach out into the community in a practical way. Originally, the thought was to grow a garden to provide food for the needy.
First Baptist member Tina Waller spearheaded the task force and worked diligently to make the garden happen.
“There’s a big sunny field across the street from the church that the church owns and wasn’t being used,” Waller said. “With the economy like it is, it just seemed like a good time to do something like this. We weren’t sure how many people would get involved, if any. But we thought we could just raise produce and take the excess to our community help center if nothing else.”
As it turns out, the community responded in a big way. All 30 of the garden plots currently are claimed and more people are wanting to know how to get involved.
As the garden grows, so are the relationships among the neighbors. Twenty-one of the 30 plots are being used by people who are not members of First Baptist.
One of those individuals is Laura Gore, who has lived in the area about three years.
“I love the community aspect of the garden,” Gore said, who has enjoyed sharing radishes with her co-workers. “We’re helping each other by taking care of each other’s plots when we’re away, and we’re meeting our neighbors and coming together more.”
Gore, who has visited several churches in the area but doesn’t have a church home, said that now when she walks her dog in the neighborhood, she speaks to more of her neighbors and stops and shares with them along the way.
Most of those participating in the garden are novices. So Waller has brought in master gardeners and representatives of the Davidson County Extension Office. They also have offered classes on composting and other gardening techniques and plan to follow those up with classes on canning and preserving.
Most of the homes in Old Hickory are located close together and, as a result, not many of the residents have a suitable garden location. That has contributed to the success of the church’s community garden.
Cindy Hudson, who moved to Old Hickory two years ago from Los Angeles, said she has no sunlight in her yard. “I just love the community spirit of all this,” said Hudson, who grew up in a Baptist church but no longer attends. “It’s so much fun. Every time I come here, there’s somebody else working, and we stop and share about what we’re doing and tell each other what’s going on.”
Heather Throneberry had never gardened in her life, but as the mother of a 21-month-old child she’s become more interested in organic products. “I’m originally from Ohio, so I had to plant corn,” she said.
Throneberry, who attends the Old Hickory Church of Christ, said she called her mother to learn more about what she should plant and how. Her mother suggested the “three sister’s mix” — a stalk of corn with beans growing up the stalk and squash planted at the base. Throneberry was excited to see four-inch ears of corn on her stalks.
In fact, everyone’s excited, according to James Askins, who’s lived in the community about three years and is a member of the church’s task force. “I’m here about two times a day, and there’s always someone here working and it’s just fun to stop and share with each other,” he said.
About twice a week, Askins runs a water hose from the church and fills the two water tanks that were donated for the garden. Each tank takes about an hour to fill. “One of the guys who’s got a plot here is a friend of someone with our fire department,” Askins said. “They’ve actually volunteered to come over and start filling up our tanks. It’s exciting to me to see the community spirit that this small piece of land has generated.”
Waller, who was laid off in March, has worked hard to solicit the community’s support. She worked to get the water tanks donated, as well as a composter, wood chips and landscape fabric. As the garden started blooming, she and others worked on a fence to keep out four-legged critters.
Askins has been doing his own pest control naturally by combining garlic and hot pepper sauce and spraying it around the garden. “It irritates the critters,” he said.
One Thursday night, as many of the gardeners were tending their plots, Askins was telling them about an upcoming blood drive at the church. “I’ll be there,” one gardener hollered across her plot. “I’m O-negative.” “Me too,” said another.”
The church is out to change the community “one tomato at a time,” Waller said.
For more information about First Baptist, Old Hickory’s garden ministry, visit fbcoh.org and click on the community garden link. Dawn Ferguson is a correspondent for the Baptist and Reflector (tnbaptist.org), newsjournal of the Tennessee Baptist Convention.