Church Grows Community in a Garden

Food pantries are full of canned and boxed items but fresh produce can be harder to find. A congregation in Knoxville, Tennessee turned two empty lots next to their church into a field of dreams, full of hundreds of tomato, pepper, squash and okra plants. Everything grown in the garden goes to food pantries and feeding programs. Church members who volunteer say gathering in the garden has been a blessing for the congregation and the community.

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Knoxville, Tennessee

Mike Smith: “Thursdays is garden party from 4:30 til dark. Saturday, we’ll have pick and grin. That’s from 9 til noon…”

Since 2014, members of Concord United Methodist in Knoxville, Tennessee have grown their sanctuary to include two vacant lots with hundreds of tomato, pepper and squash plants.

Jane Currin, Missions Director, Concord UMC: “When we first started the garden, it often felt like church in the garden because you were gathered around and you had that moment of getting to know your neighbor and getting to know people you didn’t see on Sunday morning you got to meet people in a different way than you did on the pews.”

There are bugs and 100 degree days.

John Randle: “Picking okra is something very few people enjoy because it makes you itch like poison ivy.”

But church member John Randle says hard work has its rewards.

John Randle, Concord United Methodist Church: “When you pull into a food pantry to make a delivery and they don’t open for another hour to two hours, and you’ve already got a line of people standing outside waiting to get in, it just illustrates how important this particular activity is.”

Some volunteers are master gardeners, others deliver and distribute at food pantries. Church member Pam Arnett says you don’t have to have a green thumb.

Pam Arnett: “So, it’s using the tools that God has given us, either our skills or talents and ability or essentially the fruits of what he’s given us and multiplying those just as Jesus did with the fish and the bread and helping spread that around to everyone.

Missions director Jane Currin has seen the gardens become a conversation starter. Neighbors stop to visit.

Jane Currin: “We’re known about out basketball league, we’re known about our preschool, we’re also known for our garden. And loving our neighbor by helping feed fresh, wholesome vegetables is a great way to be known.”

Each year yields more than 12,000 pounds of fresh produce and community around the garden grows too.

Mike Smith: “The biggest thing is to see people smile when they see fresh produce and God has blessed us. We haven’t had a bad year.”

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Volunteers are welcome to pitch in during several events each week. “Garden Parties” are held each Monday and Saturday mornings, 9-noon, and Thursday evenings, 4:30 til dusk, when anyone can show up to help work the garden. The garden also has spaces for people to maintain their own small garden plot. All that is asked in return is a 10% tithe on crops grown and some volunteer hours in the main garden. For more information, contact Concord United Methodist Church.

This video was produced by United Methodist Communications in Nashville, TN.

Contact is Joe Iovino.

This video was first posted on September 22, 2021.