Mulberry Street UMC turns vacant lot into field of dreams

5/18/2011

By Kara Witherow, Advocate Editor

Sowing the seeds of community. Cultivating the spirit of outreach. Harvesting the fruits of ministry.

Through its new community garden ministry, Macon’s Mulberry Street United Methodist Church is reaching out to the Macon community and those served by the church’s Macon Outreach ministry.  They’re replacing a blighted streetscape with a thriving, well-tended garden, will soon be providing the needy with fresh produce and are helping build active, healthy connections between church attendees, Macon Outreach clients and community members.

Last year, Mulberry Street UMC, through Macon Outreach, applied for a grant through the Community Foundation of Central Georgia to establish a community garden in the church-owned vacant property behind a former liquor store. That grant request was approved for $10,000, and, on Tuesday morning, February 8, ground was broken on Mulberry Street UMC’s community garden.

“We have been looking for ways to build community between the church and Macon Outreach clientele,” said Mulberry Street UMC pastor Rev. Tommy Martin.  “We saw the possibility of using the grant to start the garden as a vehicle to do more of a hands-up ministry than just a hands-out kind of ministry.  We applied for the grant based on the idea of not just growing vegetables, but growing community.”

Construction of the 28 raised beds began in January.  Tomatoes, peppers, squash, okra, zucchini, corn, cucumbers, beans, herbs and more were planted in April and will be harvested throughout the summer. 

Additional crops will be planted in the fall, and the garden has been constructed in such a way that church leaders expect it will last 10 to 15 years.  They hope it will inspire others in their community to start similar projects.

The garden’s entire harvest will be given to Macon Outreach and its clients.  Those Macon Outreach clients who have worked on the garden will get first pick of the crop, Rev. Martin said.

While one of the goals of the garden is, certainly, to help feed those in need, another priority is to help bring together two very diverse and often separate groups of people.

“To see people working together, with their hands, digging in the dirt, building the beds – it’s been wonderful to watch,” Rev. Martin said.  “It has given a sense of community where before those people did not know one another. The project itself has brought together members of our church as well as members of the Outreach community. In that sense it is building a community that did not exist before and is bridging gaps that have kept us apart socially and economically. It is a vehicle to break down those barriers. Friendships have been developing already. That’s one of the long-term goals. It’s a slower process, to bring those communities together; it takes longer than just putting plants in the ground, but we see it as one of the priorities of this project.”

Mulberry Street UMC member Amy Griffith-Dever saw the ministry as a great opportunity to give back to her community, get involved and get her hands dirty.

“There’s a great sense of community,” she said.  “It’s great to get out there. I’ve never really been able to vegetable garden because my yard has too much shade, so it’s nice to be out there and do that.”

Griffith-Dever, who also helps serve breakfast at Macon Outreach every Tuesday morning, keeps gardening tools and work clothes in the trunk of her car so she’s always ready to pull weeds or water vegetables. 

Having an opportunity to live out her faith is important, she said.

“It’s one thing to go to church and sit and listen – which I like – but this is a way to follow your faith with service and acts versus passively sitting through it. And, I like being outside. It’s a good sense of God, and I love it when people stop and we can tell them that we’re working on this for Outreach.”

What once was an ugly, overgrown and abandoned lot full of glass and trash now bursts forth with life, hope and promise.

“The garden is the vehicle,” Rev. Martin said.  “The presence of God’s spirit in this place and in this project is what, I think, will build the community and grow relationships and grow the Church.”