Annie Napier was weeding the community garden at her west Oklahoma City church when a group of people playing soccer nearby rushed over in somewhat of a panic.
“No! No! No!,” they said, gesturing at the “weeds” she had pulled from one of the raised beds at Portland Avenue Baptist Church, 1301 N Portland Ave.
Napier, 32, said she found out that what she considered a weed was amaranth, a leaf vegetable (and grain) particularly popular in warm regions of the world such as Guatemala, where the athletes were from.
The nurse, part of a core group of people who tend the garden, said the experience with the Hispanic soccer players was uplifting because it opened up conversation with some of the church’s neighbors.
“It’s just one example of how we’re trying to close that gap in our community,” Napier said. “It was cool.”
Portland Avenue Baptist is one of many churches where a community garden is supplying an opportunity for outdoor activity as well as a way to build relationships between churches and the communities they serve.
Mason Weaver, urban harvest director at the Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma, said faith-based community gardens are viewed as the “backbone” of community gardening in the state.
He said the gardens grown by churches and faith-based organizations mesh well with the food bank’s mission when they commit to donating a percentage of their produce to help alleviate hunger in their communities.
“We really view that as the way forward,” Weaver said.
Susan Howard, a lay leader at Wesley United Methodist Church, said members are trying to spread the word about the church’s new community garden.
“Some of our evangelism members have been walking the neighborhood to tell them about it,” she said.
And at Del City Church of Christ, garden coordinator Melvin Thompson said fresh fruits and vegetables from the church’s garden have been bringing the congregation together with its neighbors for four years.
“We sit here, and people see the sign and pull in,” Thompson said of vegetable stand on the church’s front lawn. “There are no strings attached. Well, maybe just some vegetable stems.”
Former parking lot
Tomatoes, basil, okra, squash, bell peppers, onions and radishes are sprouting at Wesley United Methodist, 1401 NW 25, courtesy of church member Guy Ramsey and other gardeners.
Ramsey, 54, said he recently built several raised beds on the church’s north side, in a former parking lot area. He said he created the garden after a church member said she wanted a little “dirt therapy” and noticed areas around the church that would be good for gardening.
Lay leader Howard, 58, said the church hopes to expand the garden to at least 10 raised beds. She and her husband, Rex, the garden coordinator, are avid gardeners, she said.
“I just thought it was an excellent idea, because it’s a way to build relationships with our neighbors in the community,” Howard said.
Gardening with a plan
Thompson, a master gardener at Del City Church of Christ, said he didn’t know “doodle squat” about his pet project when he came up with the idea. The self-professed workaholic said he only knew that he needed to do something after he retired from running the business he founded.
Mason Weaver, urban harvest director at the Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma, said many churches may be eligible to receive free garden seeds from the food bank if they are donating some of the produce from their community gardens.
For more information, call Weaver at 600-3142 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.