Com­mu­nity gar­den in Mid­dle River plants seeds of grace for those in need

The Avenue News - - FRONT PAGE - By: GIANNA DECARLO gde­carlo@ches­pub.com

It was a rainy Earth Day on Satur­day, April 22, as dozens of Tow­son Univer­sity stu­dents got down and dirty to pre­pare a com­mu­nity gar­den for the up­com­ing summer’s har­vest.

Lo­cated be­hind the Mid­dle River Bap­tist Church, the Seeds of Grace gar­den serves the com­mu­nity by us­ing sus­tain­able gar­den­ing meth­ods to pro­vide fresh veg­eta­bles and fruits to dis­trib­ute to res­i­dents in need.

The 11-acre plot of land was trans­formed into a thriv­ing gar­den in 2013 when Chris Wat­son, the church’s min­istry di­rec­tor, start­ing us­ing the land to help make healthy food more ac­ces­si­ble and avail­able to the low-in­come fam­i­lies in Mid­dle River by cre­at­ing a food min­istry.

The ground was wet with the week­end’s rain­fall, but the Tow­son stu­dents per­sisted, tug­ging at re­silient crab­grass and dig­ging rows for seed plant­ing. Rebecca Shin­dledecker, a Tow­son grad stu­dent in the nurs­ing ed­u­ca­tion pro­gram, mon­i­tors the vol­un­teers and reaches out to lo­cal schools and or­ga­ni­za­tions

about help­ing with the gar­den. Wat­son said that 75% of the la­bor in the gar­den has been done by high school stu­dents for com­mu­nity ser­vice hours. But, in the end, he said they gain more than just ser­vice hours.

“It’s great be­cause you can see the light come on for these kids, it’s great see­ing them come in here and have that hands-on experience,” he said. “There’s usu­ally a dis­con­nect be­tween kids and where their food comes from.”

Wat­son and his wife Tam­bree do the day-to-day tasks like main­tain­ing the growth and har­vest­ing the pro­duce. To­wards the end of May, they will be haul­ing buck­ets upon buck­ets of fruits and veg­eta­bles into the food bank.

They said they of­ten have home­less people come into the gar­den and take from food fresh from the ground, but that’s fine with them, as long as they don’t dis­turb the rest of the gar­den.

“If they need it be­cause they’re hun­gry, that’s what we’re here for,” said Tam­bree.

Ev­ery Wed­nes­day from 9 a.m.- 12 p.m. the church holds a dis­tri­bu­tion day where people can come in and take what­ever food they need, no ques­tions asked.

“There’s a lot of indigent and needy people around here that we help sup­port. What we’re do­ing here helps a lot of people,” said Wat­son.

The Gar­den Min­istry is sus­tained each year through re­newed fund­ing, in-kind do­na­tions, and com­mu­nity sup­port. Each Satur­day vol­un­teers from the com­mu­nity help to main­tain the gar­den space. Stu­dents from Ken­wood High School, Perry Hall High School, Arch­bishop Cur­ley, The Catholic High School of Bal­ti­more, Eastern Tech­ni­cal High School, and Mid­dle River Mid­dle School have all signed up to vol­un­teer at the gar­den over the years.

In the past sea­sons, the vol­un­teers har­vested over 800 pounds of pro­duce, and they are hop­ing to hit 1000 pounds this year.

“We try to keep ev­ery­thing as sus­tain­able as pos­si­ble,” Wat­son said, point­ing out that the fences con­tain­ing the gar­den were made of re­cy­cled bam­boo shoots. “Ev­ery­thing gets used and if for what­ever rea­son it can’t be used, it gets com­posted right into the gar­den.”

Wat­son ex­plained that they do a type of all-nat­u­ral, or­ganic gar­den­ing called “Back to Eden gar­den­ing” that starts with layering com­postable ma­te­ri­als on top of each other to cre­ate a hab­it­able en­vi­ron­ment for seeds.

“We put a bunch of do­nated news­pa­pers on the ground and filled that with com­post from a Bal­ti­more County land­fill and then we cov­ered that with wood­chips. As the wood­chips de­cay, it turns into soil.”

In a few months, the muddy piles of weeds will bloom into rows of let­tuce, radishes, peas, onions, broc­coli, kale, and more, that will go di­rectly back into feed­ing the com­mu­nity.

This year, the gar­den added a bee hive stand and a soon-to-be-renovated green­house.

Three stu­dents from a Tow­son soror­ity were also work­ing on a pol­li­na­tor gar­den that will be filled with na­tive plants that at­tract bees and other help­ful crit­ters.

The gar­den has big goals, in­clud­ing mak­ing the ma­jor­ity of their pro­duce heir- loom, or­ganic, and GMOfree, but right now, Wat­son said their vision is sim­ply to make sure every­body is happy and fed.

“Right now, our num­ber one pri­or­ity is just get­ting food in peo­ples’ stom­ach.”

The gar­den op­er­ates un­der the church’s non-profit sta­tus. If you’re in­ter­ested in do­nat­ing or vol­un­teer­ing to Seeds of Grace, con­tact Chris at J.chris.wat­son@ gmail.com or at 443-7038323.

For more in­for­ma­tion and gar­den up­dates, visit the Face­book group at www.face­book.com/ groups/1422806844617407.

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