Peace garden plot to help feed the hungry

Jul 4, 2015

Juicy tomatoes and cucumbers, fresh herbs and succulent Brussels sprouts soon will help fill empty stomachs.

 

Cathy Maes, executive director of Loaves and Fishes, and the Rev. Nancy Bence, Peace Lutheran Church senior pastor, look over tomato plants growing in the Peace Community Garden and destined to help feed the hungry.Photo by Sue Austreng

Cathy Maes, executive director of Loaves and Fishes, and the Rev. Nancy Bence, Peace Lutheran Church senior pastor, look over tomato plants growing in the Peace Community Garden and destined to help feed the hungry.Photo by Sue Austreng

The bounty will be harvested from Peace Community Garden to fill plates with nutritious food to feed the hungry.

Peace Community Garden is a 3.86-acre plot on Peace Lutheran Church property, Coon Rapids.

“This is a plot where our neighbors will be able to enjoy nature, recreation and community activities. We’ll have walking paths, nature trails. … We want to start a Music in the Garden series later this summer. It’s just a lovely open space for our neighbors to enjoy,” said the Rev. Nancy Bence, senior pastor at the church.

The centerpiece of the community garden is a 1-acre garden bed, a garden bed the church donated to Loaves and Fishes, which will grow and harvest fresh, healthy produce thanks to a grant from the United Way.

Loaves and Fishes, a free meal program that serves those in need across Minnesota,  has a “farm for all” program in which herbs and vegetables are sown and harvested from four garden locations: Eagan, St. Paul, Richfield and now Peace Community Garden, Coon Rapids.

“It’s a farm-to-table approach for guests who otherwise wouldn’t have access to such produce,” said Cathy Maes, executive director of Loaves and Fishes.

“This (Peace Community) garden is by far the largest of the four, and what we harvest here will be sent right out and served to people in need,” she said, referring to the more than 420,000 free meals served by Loaves and Fishes every year at 23 sites through the Twin Cities, including Coon Rapids.

The community garden will also provide produce for the 9,000 free meals Peace Lutheran  serves at the church for those in need through its Summer Lunch at Peace, Peace Meal and Family Table Meal programs.

The ground on which the garden thrives is a plot the church purchased in 1985  with plans to enlarge the church building, provide senior housing or extends its facilities in other ways. When those plans failed to reach fruition, the plot remained vacant and weeds on the property continued to bloom and grow.

“It was weed-infested. Poison ivy was growing deeper and higher. Something had to be done,” Bence said.

She had long envisioned an urban farming project and sought to find a partner for that endeavor. Soon, the partnership with Loaves and Fishes was born.

But the property needed to be excavated, the garden needed to be designed, plants for planting needed to be gathered.

“Excavation was the biggest expense – $60,000,” Bence said. “And then we needed 1,000 cubic yards of top soil. And then we needed the plants. There was so much to be done, so much to accomplish. The city of Coon Rapids, our neighbors – everyone has been so wonderful during this whole process,” she said. “And now we have this oasis in the middle of suburbia for the community, for the hungry. This is just so beautiful.”

Bence’s partner in gardening also expressed her delight in the support extended throughout the process.

“We are so extremely grateful for this partnership, for this beautiful space, for all the people who did so much to make this happen,” Maes said.

A dedication and ribbon-cutting festival was staged at the garden June 28 and was attended by dozens of community and church members.

Coon Rapids City Councilman Brad Johnson cut the ribbon and said to those gathered for the event: “It’s easy to support a vision and an idea like this. Thank you for bringing it to Coon Rapids.”

In addition to the ribbon cutting, the dedication event included bouncy house play for children, a tractor-drawn hayride, country line dancing, and BBQ and Blues in the garden, featuring live music performed by the band PLC and other musicians.

Though interrupted by a thunderous rainstorm, Bence called the dedication event “a great day for the community.”

She then offered up a prayer asking God to “bless those who work the garden; bless those in need and bless this produce that it may nourish them, body and soul.”

To learn more about Peace Lutheran Church, go to PeaceCoonRapids.org.

For more information about Loaves and fishes, visit LoavesAndFishesMN.org.

Sue.Austreng@ecm-inc.com