Hendersonville First Congregational Church - Growing a garden and a community
November 9, 2011
A rich vegetable garden is
being cultivated on the lawn surrounding the Hendersonville First
Congregational Church (United Church of Christ) in Hendersonville, NC. The
congregation banded together to till the rocky soil and create a rich garden to
feed their friends and neighbors.
Since the garden has come to
"fruit" the church has donated in excess of 300 pounds of vegetables
to the food pantries at Interfaith Assistance Ministries, and to the kitchen at
the Hendersonville Rescue Mission, and the work continues.
Growing a garden and a community Hendersonville
church members fruitful, find fellowship in project
By Beth Beasley, Times-News correspondent May
One outcome of digging in the dirt
and growing food is the benefit of growing community, as the fellowship of a
local church devotes time, muscle, and careful planning to a new garden
The new community garden on the grounds of First Congregational Church in Laurel Park is rallying church members to grow vegetables that will be used to feed the hungry in Henderson County.
(Photo Credit Beth Beasley/Times-News)
On what last year was a big expanse
of lawn on the grounds, a rich vegetable garden is being cultivated at the
Hendersonville First Congregational Church (United Church of Christ) on Fifth
“To think that this was barren and
is now fruitful,” says the Rev. E. Richard Weidler, pastor at FCC. “We are
being good stewards of the earth, and we’ll be sharing with our neighbors —
something we’re called to do.”
Fortunately, the church’s fellowship
includes a healthy collection of gardeners with green thumbs, including Milton
Stewart is in the church garden
every morning from 9 a.m. to noon, getting the half-acre wedge of land at the
back of the church ready for more planting.
“We have a ton of garlic, onions and
even some ramps,” says Stewart, who lives in Flat Rock.
So far, cabbage, collards and corn
are also growing from small starts on the site, with plans to soon plant rows
of sweet potatoes, Yukon gold potatoes, watermelon, cantaloupe, lettuce and
To prepare the church grounds — rich
bottomland near a stream — Stewart fetched his “big yellow tractor” on a day’s drive
to Florida, where the tractor had been stored.
He and fellow church member Carl
Popanz built a wooden shed for the tractor.
Popanz and Stewart forged ahead with
getting the garden ready after planning meetings formed an idea of the
congregation’s vision for the garden.
“The pH was okay — at 7.0,” Stewart
says. “It’s lacking a little in nitrogen, but we’re fixing that with a little
The stones littering the soil were
so prevalent that “stone removal” work parties were formed in early spring.
“It’s just a great group of people,”
says Stewart’s wife, Jeannie. “There’s a lot of enthusiasm for” the garden.
Jeannie Stewart says she and her
husband grew vegetables on their five acres in Florida but haven’t had a
regular home garden since moving to Henderson County about six years ago.
Around 16 to two dozen church and
community members have turned out at each work party to remove brush and
stones, Jeannie says.
During one of the stone removal work
parties, an old spring covered with a stone grotto was revealed.
As crews clipped back multiflora
rose and other invasive plants and vines near the disused railroad tracks, the
spring came into view — the date “1933” was inscribed on the man-made arch.
Clear water still flows from the
forgotten spring, likely once used for a now demolished home.
Naturally, the spring water will
come in handy for growing crops, and a small containment area for water
collection has been constructed.
“We have a good friendship garden,”
Milton Stewart says.
A mature willow oak stands in the
middle of sections of land, plowed in long rows, wedged between White Pine
Drive and the old railroad.
Raised beds were considered, but
planting with the tractor’s assistance made rows of vegetables seem more
The idea to grow a garden was
considered by the congregation last year but was dismissed after considering
the amount of rocks in the soil, Weidler says.
But when First Congregational Church
member Diane Rhoades proposed the idea of a community garden earlier this year,
her request generated the requisite enthusiasm.
“This church is most receptive to
the community’s needs,” Rhoades says.
Spoils from the garden will go to
church members as well as organizations in town.
“We want to share,” Jeannie Stewart
says. “Places like the Rescue Mission, Interfaith Assistance Ministry — for
those who are hungry in the community.”
While the garden is not “completely
organic,” Rhoades says they are moving in that direction.
As far as crews working in the
garden, Rhoades — in denim overalls stained with dirt at the knees — agrees
with Jeannie Stewart that they’re a fun-loving group.
“Singing is mandatory,” Rhoades says
with a smile.
Rhoades adds that a raised garden
for handicapped members has been talked about in garden planning sessions,
perhaps using “an attractive bathtub.”
A gazebo with some chairs is also
part of the vision for the garden, according to Jeannie Stewart.
As the growing season gets in full
swing, opportunities for more of the congregation to get involved will begin, now
that the hard work of clearing has been completed.
“We’re an older congregation,”
Jeannie Stewart says. “We will probably have a schedule for weeding and
watering soon, which will be easier for most people.”
The Stewarts and other families are
growing plants from seed, Jeannie Stewart adds.
The fruits of the garden project are
just another way First Congregational members are giving back, she says.
The many who volunteer at area
organizations will hopefully see the benefits that fresh, local produce — grown
with care and love — will have on the community at large.