But at the Community Garden of Promise, they weed together, plant together, mulch together and harvest together.
“This garden means fellowship to me, and the camaraderie we have with each other,” said Caroline Martin of Kernersville. “I love working in the dirt; it gets me closer to God. It’s one of the places I can meditate and relax. And I enjoy the fact that we help other people.”
The bounty from the quarter-acre garden, a project of the Main Street United Methodist Church in Kernersville, is split three ways: one-third to the people who work it, one-third to the elderly or people in need of the church, and one-third to area food banks and crisis-control centers. Also, during the height of the harvest in July, fresh vegetables are put in a basket in the foyer of the church, for people to take home — with or without a donation to the church.
Backyard and community gardening are hot trends in the United States, with more emphasis than ever on growing and eating locally and organically.
The Garden of Promise was one of 12 community gardens in North Carolina on display Saturday, as a part of the weekend “Come to the Table” conference, which focused on people of faith sustaining local farms and relieving hunger in North Carolina.
It was sponsored by the Rural Life committee of the North Carolina Council of Churches with support from the Duke Endowment. Friday work sessions at Wake Forest University focused on farmers markets, federal and state farm policies, job training for cooks and farmers, and more.
About 300 volunteers help with the Kernersville garden, but a core group of about 15 really keep the dirt producing. Work sessions are generally held a couple of times a week, on Saturdays and Wednesdays, but during the growing season more time is needed to pull the veggies and herbs from the soil.
An old apartment building once sat on the community garden plot. But the complex became run down, and the church bought the property in 2008. After the demolition of the dilapidated complex, church leaders sought opinions on what to do with the land.
“When I decided to bring up the idea of a community garden, I thought I would be laughed out of the room,” said Mary Jac Brennan, one of the leaders of the garden. “But there was wholehearted support.”
Those who were interested in the garden had their first meeting in March 2009, with the church paying for the initial site work, which included clearing out the remaining debris and preparing the soil.
“We stopped weighing after 2,000 pounds,” Brennan said.
The last growing season produced much less, about 500 pounds.
“It was just too hot last year,” said Brennan, who is also the community gardening expert for the N.C. Cooperative Extension. “We never know what we’ll get; that’s why it’s called the Garden of Promise.”
Two compost bins on the property convert juicy rotted material into a rich additive for the soil. Garden workers throw in coffee grounds collected from local coffee shops, and add in leftover scraps from church dinners, leaves, manure, and any other biodegradable materials.
“I hope this helps revive interest in home gardens,” said Pat Thomas of Kernersville, another garden worker. “I hope it also helps revive the art of canning and pickling.”
The women of the church can and pickle a lot from the garden’s harvest, selling the jars at the church’s fall bazaar. The proceeds go to the next season’s seeds and other costs of the garden.
A scarecrow named Mary (from the “Mary, Mary, quite contrary” nursery rhyme) watches over the plot at a busy intersection in Kernersville. The garden leaders raised money by announcing to the church that for $25, Mary could be dressed in the collegiate outfit of choice. So far, Mary has been dressed in Wake Forest and Duke sweatshirts. She’s up for grabs to don Tar Heel or Wolfpack clothing; meanwhile, she wears thrift-store pants.
Workers used to pump water to the garden through linked garden hoses, hooked up to a nearby home of a member of the church, with the church paying her water bill. But they recently got a water meter on the edge of the garden, allowing a direct line to the city’s water supply.
The workers at the garden range from 3-year-olds to retired folks.
Chip Cole, another volunteer, said he works in the garden partly because “there’s a lot of really good gardeners who work here, and I learn how to grow my own backyard garden.”
Many of the workers tap into a spiritual connection through the garden.
“When I’m working out here in a cool summer evening, and the carillon starts to chime, it’s an amazing sense of peace,” Thomas said.
Some of the workers eat as they pick.
“That’s the beauty of not using pesticides,” Brennan said. “You can pick yourself a breakfast of warm cherry tomatoes.”