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