By LYDIA BERGLAR
Trenton United Methodist Church (TUMC) started a garden in the fall of 2021 to provide fresh produce to people in need. The project started with three raised beds, and this season, 27 beds will be planted with vegetables and three with flowers.
Jimmy Reeves leads the gardening efforts with a team of 13 other volunteers. Reeves explained that the church first became interested in starting a garden ministry when they heard a presentation from Larry Williams. Williams visits churches to share about garden ministries that provide fresh vegetables to people in need.
TUMC started with three beds in the fall of 2021, and Reeves got involved that spring. “They asked me to lead it because I know a little bit about gardening,” he explained modestly. Reeves has gardened throughout his life and cares for crops with expertise.
Reeves said, “We just saw it as an opportunity to help people and give back to our neighbors. When the pandemic came, things changed up a lot for people. We saw the opportunity to help people who were maybe having a little bit of trouble.”
The church provides produce to the Tri-State Food Pantry, the Dade County School System, and Lookout Pointe Apartments. They also distribute directly to several families in the area.
Reeves said, “We had a meeting last year, and we invited [people from these organizations] to listen and share their ideas. They were willing to help, so we put together our distribution through them.”
Rose Powell who oversees the food pantry told Reeves that the fresh produce was well-received last season. TUMC works with Kristin Barrett (a social worker with the school system) and Jennifer Cash at the apartments to provide vegetables to people who can and will use the food.
Reeves explained, “Our first goal is to get it in the hands of people who need it. Our second goal is to get it to people who can use it.” As “feet on the ground,” Powell, Barrett, and Cash are able to ensure that TUMC’s produce reaches people who will use it.
When it comes to providing food to those in need, one common problem charities, churches, and government organizations face is balancing healthy, nutrition-filled food with accessibility, preferences, and ease of preparation.
While gardens like TUMC’s provide healthier alternatives to cheap, easy food that often lacks nutrition but is filled with excess calories and sugar, it is up to recipients to eat the produce. Distributors must consider if those in need want to eat vegetables, know how to prepare produce, and have the tools and appliances needed.
Of TUMC’s 30 raised beds, 27 will have vegetables growing in them this season. The other three beds are managed by Ernie Ponder who grows dahlia flowers. Reeves explained, “He loves growing dahlias, and we distribute those to people who are sick and our shut-ins.”
The gardens produce throughout the summer and until it begins to frost (usually around the end of October). Reeves explained that they are planting in intervals so that they can provide produce throughout the entire season. “You can plant some crops in intervals because they mature pretty quickly, some in 45 or 50 days. For example, when bush beans start to produce, they produce all of their beans in a short amount of time. If we have some that are planted later, they begin to produce as the first set goes out.”
This season, TUMC will be growing cabbage, squash, tomatoes, okra, and bush beans.
Last season, the 22 beds that were planted with vegetables produced almost 1,400 pounds of produce. Reeves said, “I think it’s gone very well. Last year, as we got started here, we asked the Lord to bless the garden ministry, and He certainly did.”
Reeves noted that raised beds are easier to manage because no plowing is needed and they require less wedding. The church’s property is rocky, so raised beds were a far better option.
The garden ministry also ties into Orange Grove Center, a group that uses TUMC’s building to meet throughout the week. Orange Grove is a Chattanooga-based organization that works with people with intellectual and/or developmental disabilities. The center’s day programs include service and employment opportunities for these folks.
Orange Grove members help the garden ministry by distributing the vegetables. Reeves noted that members enjoy getting to serve the community in this hands-on way. “It helps us and it helps them too.”
While TUMC budgets money for the garden, they also found one easy way to save some money. A building on the property needed a new roof, and they were able to use the old roof as siding for the raised beds.
Additionally, MEED Forestry recently donated mulch to cover the ground between the beds. The soil, however, required a significant investment. Reeves reported that soil for all of the beds cost over $4,000.
Reeves estimates that they have room to add up to 20 additional beds should volunteer availability and means allow.
Reeves and TUMC want to thank the volunteers who care for the garden, the Orange Grove members who distribute the produce, and the local organizations who get the food into the hands of people who need it.
If you would like to support the garden’s efforts, contact Reeves at 423-718-7145 or the church office at 706-657-6170 or TUMC@tvn.net.