A 40 pound squash, onions the size of softballs and sunflowers taller than the average
person crowd the space in the garden behind Our Redeemer Lutheran Church. Not an inch of soil is put to waste; not an ounce of produce will go uncollected. Tended solely by volunteers as a joint ecumenical project between two local churches, all the produce harvested, an estimated 1600 pounds, has been and continues to be delivered weekly to FISH food bank.
What started as an idea to celebrate Our Redeemer Lutheran Church’s 50th Anniversary soon turned into a project involving not only other denominations, but a lot of dirt and labor as well. “The idea was for us to do something to give back to the community,” garden coordinator Dottie Gilbertson said. “Instead of just celebrating our anniversary inwardly, we wanted to celebrate outwardly, by celebrating with the entire community. We have this big plot of land and we all said ‘let’s do something with it!’”
The garden was started in the spring of 2009 using about a third of the available land site behind the Lutheran church. It produced over 800 pounds of produce for FISH the first year. Asbury United Methodist then heard about the project and asked if they could be a part. The garden doubled in size this spring.
“In early spring we all sat down together, Alan and Bette Lou Yenne, and Dottie Gilbertson from Our Redeemer, and Gigi Siekkinen and myself from Asbury, and we determined what we should plant and how to make this work,” said Scott Fitch, member at Asbury United Methodist. Fitch and Alan Yenne, both Master Gardeners, bring years of friendship and expertise to knowing how to properly cultivate the vegetables for harvest. “We knew there was a huge need at the food bank for produce, and after asking Lorrinda [Hoffman, Site Manager at FISH] what they wanted, we got to work planting,” Fitch added.
The first year was spent growing and learning what types of vegetables would be good in their soil. Corn was not as successful as the root vegetables. Onions, beets, potatoes, carrots, as well as squash and cucumbers are all doing very well. “One of our effective tricks was to lay cardboard around the plants and mulch over the top. This has really kept the weeds down. We keep fine tuning it as we go. It’s doing well, but growing a garden this size, well, we learn as we go, too,” Fitch said. Plans for a cover crop for the winter are already in process.
About 25 volunteers from both churches gather periodically, some as groups, some are families, others when they can, to weed, tend, water and harvest. Fitch and Yenne then take the produce to FISH each week as it is ready. “FISH has a need for it,” Fitch explained. “If food isn’t donated to them they often have to go out and buy it with their reserves. They could be using that money for other things.” Lorrinda Hoffman, Site Manager at the Hood River branch of FISH agreed, “We would order onions, potatoes, carrots and squash anyway, two 50 lbs bags of each weekly, so this is a win-win all the way around.” When Fitch and Yenne bring in fresh produce, Hoffman knows that the money usually spent on produce can go toward other items such as milk or cheese. “The fresh veggies go like crazy,” she said. “It is such a good thing to get them each week. All veggies are welcome and everything is taken. Even the zucchinis,” she laughs.
Hoffman said that several households donate their garden produce, for which she is greatly appreciative of every amount and variety, but she has never seen churches working collaboratively on such a garden project. “It is a cooperative project between those two men, between the two churches. It’s been a great example of that same cooperation in what we do here at FISH,” Hoffman said. FISH relies on a volunteer base from ten local churches to staff the food bank on a weekly rotation.
“We are building relationships together,” said Gilbertson of the mutual work between the Lutherans and Methodists. “We are sharing not only garden space but time, energy and purpose.” Gardening for the shared purpose of the FISH food bank has connected the two churches for a common goal, one that will be ongoing into the next decade. “It’s been a very successful thing,” shares Gilbertson. “It’s for a good cause and people are already energized for next year.”
On August 31 members from the two churches gathered for a harvest potluck to celebrate the estimated 1600 pounds of produce harvested for FISH and the ongoing success of the garden.
For more information on the joint garden project, please contact Dottie Gilbertson at Our Redeemer Lutheran Church 541-386-3993. For more information about FISH food bank please call 541-386-3474.Share on Facebook