By Sharon Mager
MIDDLE RIVER, Md.—An unused, swampy overgrown track of land behind Middle River Baptist Church (MRBC) has been redeemed, and the church is now using it as a huge community garden. This ‘Seeds of Grace’ supplies hundreds of pounds of food for the needy. The garden also provides an opportunity for multiple community groups to “give back” and a chance for MRBC members to love and engage their community.
MRBC member Chris Watson approached church leadership about using the vacant land to grow food in 2014. About the same time, Ruth Honnas, a retired college professor who was mentoring Barbara Maliszewski, then a Towson University graduate student, also requested use of the land for Maliszewski’s community service project. The church agreed, and the three began staking out the ground.
Watson, strongly influenced by the movie, “Back to Eden,“ the story of Paul Gautschi’s journey of walking with God in a garden. Gautschi developed a garden technique relying on natural compost as opposed to regular tilling, fertilizing and other intrusive methods.
“It’s God’s way of doing things. Leaves and branches fall; they decompose and build up over time. That’s how soil is built,” Watson said.
“We’re working to do this in an environmentally friendly, sustainable way, and we’re trying to minister to people.”
Most of the food goes to the church food pantry and to the Eastern Resource Center (ERC). Last year, the garden produced 850 pounds of food. It contains over 50 fruit trees, 60 blueberry, 20 blackberry and raspberry bushes, spinach, lettuce, potatoes, onions, squash, tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, egg plants, beans and strawberries.
“We had too much for our pantry, and the ERC couldn’t take it all,” Watson said. He expects that by the fifth year, the garden will be producing over 2,000 pounds of food. They are seeking other opportunities to share their bounty.
Though members help out, almost 80 percent involved are not affiliated with the church.
The Baltimore County Police use the gardens to give juvenile offenders an opportunity to spend time outdoors, to learn and to give back to the community.
Towson University has been using the garden for their annual “Big Day” of service. and student groups arrived at the garden ready to get their hands dirty.
Members of Towson Baptist Student Ministry at Towson University also participate, as do students from Baltimore County schools and local Catholic schools.
MRBC member Denise Prem serves on leadership committees and also leads a local Girl Scout troop. She recently brought several girl scouts to the garden to enhance their “Sow What Journey” project, in which the girls learn about the food journey, how it’s grown, harvested and processed. The book actually encourages scouts to plant community gardens. So, Prem said, the church garden was a perfect field trip.
In addition to a great kids’ project, Prem said the garden is a fabulous ministry to neighbors.
“It makes me think of the scripture that says, ‘Feed my sheep.’” Prem said the church strives to provide both physical and spiritual food.
“Plus, it is fun to see God’s people at work at something you can see grow each week. Also groups of people from outside of MRBC are coming to help – so this is another ministry. From preparing the ground to planting, to harvesting and to the table, each step has a place for God’s love to be shared,” she said.
Groups are welcome to work in the garden. For more information, contact Chris Watson, firstname.lastname@example.org.
The ministry accepts donations to fund the work and gifts of material and equipment.