Bonsack's Community Garden
Little Hands and Big Hearts Connecting to Serve our Neighbors
Perhaps you’ve heard of the “farm to table” movement within the food industry, which seeks to provide locally grown food for service at restaurants, school cafeterias, and local markets. Bonsack now has its own version of this movement in the form of our community garden. The project began in 2017 as an effort to enhance the experience of children who attend our Weekday Early Education Center (WEEC) and our After School program. Noticing the unused land beyond the old red barn near the CLC parking lot, WEEC director, Tana Adams, got the idea of providing children in her program with a hands-on experience in growing food in their very own garden. She saw it as both an educational opportunity and as a chance to illustrate the power and beauty of how God works through his creation.
Reflecting on the genesis of the idea she says, “I grew up on the farm and it was an invaluable experience for me, but many of our kids have never done anything like this before. So they get to work the garden and see a harvest from their efforts. It builds character, creates teamwork, fosters leadership, and it’s a great learning process. We wanted to let them get their hands dirty, let them see that their efforts could result in really great things and that God would bless it.”
It took a team of volunteers to put the idea in motion. Several church members stepped forward to plow the land and get it ready for that first planting. There was also the challenge of providing irrigation without a spigot nearby, so a group of men developed an ingenious system for capturing rain water from the barn roof and then pumping it over to the garden. Others worked to build a series of raised beds so those with physical limitations can participate in the experience. From its beginning, then, the garden has provided multiple ways to get involved in serving.
The first crop began with Bonsack senior adults cutting up hundreds of pounds of potatoes for the children to plant. This was followed by corn, tomatoes, watermelon, and squash. When the first harvest came, the children were especially excited by the potatoes. As Tana Adams put it, “When we were ready to harvest the potatoes, it was like a hunt for the kids. Tomatoes and watermelons you can see as they grow and it’s really exciting, but the potatoes you have to dig for!”
It wasn’t long until a new challenge emerged: what to do with all that produce? The kids took home buckets of fresh vegetables, but there was way more coming up out of the ground than they could consume. So, the WEEC staff thought of sharing the produce with clients in the Bonsack Food Bank Ministry.
In 2018, the Food Bank Ministry provided supplemental food assistance
to over 6,100 people. The more than 40 volunteers who serve this ministry every Thursday work hard to provide clients with useful and healthy food options. They purchase most of their food through the Feeding America organization, and receive other donations from local grocery stores, but fresh produce is hard to find. So, the prospect of bringing items straight from the garden and sharing them with our neighbors seemed like a great idea. As John Leftwich, who coordinates this ministry, put it, “What they grow in the garden and bring to us is wonderful. We do not have a large offering of produce, and we have local grocery stores that partner with us, but it’s great to have a variety of fresh produce.”
Of course, not everyone knows immediately how to use fresh produce. To help with this challenge, WEEC mom and church member, Lindsey Ostergaard put together a list of simple recipes to provide easy guidance in how to cook with fresh vegetables. These were placed on small cards that clients could carry home with them. The result is that now, on Thursday mornings, when the garden is in season, the produce flies off the shelf. Every season, pounds of potatoes, corn, tomatoes, and squash are shared with neighbors from Fincastle to Montvale. The combined result is that children are learning, adults are sharing, and the hungry are being fed. This is what it looks like when the gospel is put into action!
This is truly a community garden, so anyone who enjoys working in the dirt is encouraged to contact Tana Adams in the WEEC office to find out how to get involved. There is particular interest this year in developing a flower garden to compliment the fruits and vegetables, so people who are good at growing flowering plants are especially needed. And there is never a shortage of weeds to pull, so even if you don’t have a green thumb you can grab some work gloves and come be part of this shared experience.
Our strategic plan calls us to know our neighbors, to grow in our faith, and go into the community around us to serve in Jesus’ name. It is exciting to see all these initiatives being met as little hands join with big hands around a small patch of forgotten land behind an old barn!