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Mansfield Magazine

Garden of Hope

Nov 16, 2012 10:22AM ● Published by Lisa Drake

Gallery: Hope Garden volunteers [7 Images] Click any image to expand.

Garden of Hope Church’s Hope Community Garden Helps Sustain Lives

By Kerry Pipes

Food is the fuel that sustains physical life. Ask any nutritionist and they will tell you that naturally grown organic foods that originate in nature are the healthiest and most beneficial to the body. It’s easy to see why many people cultivate their own gardens. But at Community of Hope United Methodist Church you will discover a unique garden that not only sustains physically but spiritually.

The church’s Hope Community Garden was first planted just a couple of years ago and is “a little piece of heaven on earth in the middle of a bustling community,” says Jane Johnson, a 2nd grade teacher at Mansfield’s Thelma Jones Elementary School and one of the garden’s key caretakers.

The Hope Community Garden is a volunteer-run endeavor that provides fresh homegrown fruit and vegetables to the community and local food pantries. “The garden’s mission is to provide a place to grow, learn and share with others in the growing of produce to feed the families of our community through the efforts of volunteers while cultivating sustainable living practices,” says Johnson, who has always had an interest in growing things.

Beyond supplying food for the community, the garden provides a place of therapy and joy for volunteers who enjoy working the soil and seeing things grow. It brings people together for many common goals: a love for watching things grow, helping and sharing with others, enjoying the outdoors, learning what and how things grow and providing food for the family, says Johnson.

The garden was established in 2010 on a small plot of land at Community of Hope United Methodist Church. The original founders had a vision for growing their own food, showing others how to grow food, helping those in need, meeting others with a common interest, and coming to know the joy and hard work that gardening can offer.

Groups of volunteers take turns planting, watering, weeding, cleaning and harvesting the crops each season. “We welcome help with open arms, wheelbarrows and shovels,” says Johnson. The garden is funded by donations. “The garden offers a way to serve others in our community. There’s nothing better than homegrown fruits and vegetables,” Johnson says. And, she adds, it was created with a lot of “love, prayers, sweat and tears.”

OVERCOMING ADVERSITY

There have, in fact, been some tough times during the garden’s formative years. It’s been a great testimony to overcoming adversity, says Johnson. In the beginning, the garden’s pioneers were told that nothing would grow for years because the soil was so poor. Undeterred, the volunteers invested lots of sweat equity into preparing the soil and they actually harvested a little food that season. The group also figured out that raised box gardening was a good solution to help with the soil problem.

The garden was expanded for its second year but suffered through the severe drought. Johnson says the group fought discouragement and carried on realizing they were facing the same challenges as farmers everywhere. There were weeds, ants and wild grass and some volunteers gave up and walked away from the garden. The remaining group of volunteers circled the wagons, reduced the size of the garden and this past season they harvested more than 600 pounds of produce.

“It’s God’s plan for this garden to do what it has done, so we follow through and all are blessed by it,” says Johnson.

BOUNTIFUL HARVEST

Looking ahead, Johnson says the garden continues to need volunteers – other churches, individuals and groups are welcome. Even if you don’t know a thing about gardening, she says they have a place for you.

“We really need people who could help raise funds to maintain the garden needs, manage publicity and communications and coordinate volunteer groups by serving as a contact person,” she says. “We hope to have a garden council that can really get organized and move the garden forward.”

It’s easy to get involved. Just visit their Facebook page, call the church at 817-453-2328, or contact Jane Johnson (janeepj@sbcglobal.net) or Cindy Midkiff (midkcy@sbcglobal.net) for more information. Pastor Joe Carmichael is also on site most days and can also offer information.

The Hope Community Garden seems destined for more seasons of harvest. It continues to bring people together in service and provides resources for many.

“I think it will grow beyond anything we can ever imagine,” says Johnson. “There are many who want this to succeed. It is serving its purpose and I truly believe God is taking care of it.”

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