Mission 4/1 Earth might have ended in May, but congregations continue to see the fruits of their labor from participation in the United Church of Christ's 50-day earth care initiative. In Westminster, Md., youth groups from St. Paul's UCC and its sister church St. Mary's UCC have used produce they planted this spring to provide weekly meals for those in need. As more of the fruits and vegetables continue to ripen throughout the summer, the group will have enough to feed local families well into the fall and winter.
"This has been an exciting project to feed our hungry neighbors," said the Rev. Lucy Brady, pastor for children and youth ministry at St. Paul's UCC. "God has done more than we could ask or imagine – the harvest is abundant!"
Beginning in May, about 30 middle- and high-school students worked together to plow, till, plant and bless the garden. Youth and their families have volunteered to weed and water the garden throughout the summer and they spend a few hours harvesting the crops on Thursdays and Sundays. The garden provides lunch for about 100 people every Thursday through St. Paul's "A Meal and More" program, one of the meals served daily at various churches in Westminster. "A Meal and More" serves the area's homeless and low-income families, and also helps connect people with necessities like clothing and transitional housing.
"It's also a social time – it's a community within a community," Brady said of "A Meal and More." "We try to be a presence aside from the people who just serve a meal."
So far the group has produced 28 loaves of zucchini bread, three large pans of summer squash with Italian seasonings, large tubs of cucumber slaw, cucumber pickles, and a plethora of raw vegetables for dipping. Tomatoes, cabbage, melons and corn are almost ready, Brady said, which will be used for a variety of new dishes. The group has also prepared vegetables to freeze that will be used for soups and other meals later this year.
"The vegetables just began to grow and grow and grow," Brady said. "The youth harvested, and we began cooking."
Brady said the garden has been so successful that the group will likely plant another one next year. In addition to providing food for the community, the group also learned about composting and water conservation. Another Mission 4/1 Earth initiative included a presentation about water usage, and the congregations voted to invest in a rain barrel, which has been the main source of water used on the garden this summer.
"We learned some extra things about how to garden, how to conserve, and how to be green," Brady said. "I think the kids have loved seeing this whole thing happen – from getting it plowed, to planting, and then seeing the bounty. It's been a good feeling."