How a Community Garden Brought Neighbors Together
David Feemster remembers his exact thoughts when plans were announced at Aldersgate United Methodist Church for a community garden.
His thoughts weren’t exactly supportive, but he probably wasn’t the only member of the church with the same idea.
“I thought it was kind of a crazy idea for a ministry,” Feemster said.
This spring will mark the ninth year for this “crazy idea” to bloom. The church’s Open Door Community Garden is located at the corner of Amarillo and South Nineteenth streets, about a block from the church. Ground was broken in fall 2012 and the first planting took place in spring 2013.
The garden was the brainstorm of former associate pastor, the Reverend Amy Wilson Feltz, who was moved to become pastor of St. Paul’s UMC in El Paso in July 2019. Feltz’ vision for the garden is today’s reality.
The seeds were planted, and the community grew. Today, neighbors can be seen picking from the garden in harvest times or attending some of the varied events that were held regularly in the garden prior to 2020 when COVID-19 limited even outdoor gatherings. Plans are to resume those activities, such as monthly events in the summer, a Thanksgiving meal, and Christmas tree lighting, once the pandemic is under control. In 2020, two children’s events were held in the garden, a bingo night in September and Halloween costume party in October.
When Reverend Feltz left for El Paso, it was up to church members to continue the work she started. That proved not to be as hard as it might seem, with members like Feemster, Beckie Cox, and others keeping the garden going until a director of missions and marketing, Erin Palmer, was hired.
“We had volunteers that really stepped up in the interim until I was hired,” Palmer said.
Feemster and Cox oversee the garden, Palmer said, and one or the other church members often stop by to see what needs to be done. The church also is blessed with two Master Gardeners and one Master Naturalist as members. The church sponsors official workdays a few times a year, with good turnout.The rest of the time, a small group of volunteers does the work.
But enough people have showed up over the years to expand the garden to much more than a traditional vegetable garden. In 2016, keyhole gardens were added for flowers and pollinator plants.
A gazebo and pavilion have been built and a food pantry and Little Free Library, stocked with Bibles and children’s books. Feemster remembered a man who wasn’t a church member using the gazebo as a quiet study place.
“He would hang out there all the time,” Feemster said.
The garden serves as a study hall of a different type for the fifth-graders who attend a math and science magnet school located on the campus of McMurry University across the street from Aldersgate. Their teachers regularly bring the children to the garden for instruction and to help. Members of men’s and women’s sports teams from McMurry also help out during the year.
The food pantry, actually a box affixed to the side of a shed, was added in 2015. It was extremely popular in 2020, a year that was especially hard for a lot of people, said Palmer, director of missions and marketing. On some days, it would be emptied almost as soon as it was restocked.
“It’s been a really big ministry for us this year,” Palmer said.
Aldersgate regularly sponsors outreach projects for people in the neighborhood, and the garden was designed as an extension of that. It has proven to be a ministry to neighbors and to members alike. Beckie Cox, a devout volunteer and avid gardener, enjoyed seeing a grandmother, her daughter and granddaughter come to the garden almost every day until cold weather set in.
They would bring a lunch to enjoy at one of the tables underneath a pavilion. Cox could see from how pleased they were to be able to enjoy the comfortable place to eat and visit that the garden was serving its purpose. And that pleased her, too.
“It makes you inspired to do more,” Cox said.
By Loretta Fulton