It’s only onions now. But in coming weeks, a variety of tomatoes, peppers, herbs and other produce will be sprouting in a small space on the west side of Living Word Outreach in downtown Mansfield.
Leadership Mansfield members and Living Word staff are hoping to plant the seeds of service, cooperation and civic spirit by establishing and maintaining a community garden. The fresh produce this year’s Leadership class and other volunteers grow will primarily benefit the food pantry at Living Word.
Eventually, the community garden – the second of its kind in Mansfield – might just save Living Word $200 a week on produce and free the charity to spend those funds on other critical items that it provides to people with financial hardships.
“I think there’s something essentially healthy about growing your own produce besides that it is actually healthy for you,” said Susan Luttrell, director of serving and outreach at First United Methodist in Mansfield. “But it’s healthy for the mind and body and spirit. You add on top of that the clients of the food pantry learn that it was grown in this small of a bed or in a barrel or a pot and that they can do this.”
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Luttrell is one of 27 members of the Mansfield Area Chamber of Commerce’s current Leadership Mansfield class. In addition to learning about the inner workings of the city and county government, each year’s Leadership class must also plan and carry out a service project that makes a positive impact in the community.
At the suggestion of Leadership class member Russ Wilson, who also serves on the Keep Mansfield Beautiful city committee, this current crop of civic-minded professionals gravitated toward the community garden project.
“The idea [Wilson] came up with was perfect and met a need, and it was something that was bigger than ourselves,” said Teresa Washington, program director at Wesley Mission Center and Leadership Mansfield class member.
Pastor Gary Whetzel, Living Word Outreach founder, gave the community garden concept his blessing.
“I think it’s great. I think’s a very significant project,” Whetzel said. “One of the most significant things is it will bring different segments of the community together.”
On a recent weekend, Leadership Mansfield members cleared some clutter on the west side of Living Word’s lawn, laid down a bed of mulch and built three long flower beds bordered with cinder blocks. To add aesthetic appeal to the blocks, Wilson stained them with coffee and iron oxide to match the rusty yellow shade of the adjacent building. There’s also a large metal tub into which the Leadership participants are going to plant tomatoes, habaneros, cilantro and onions – all the ingredients of salsa.
“Everybody participated,” said Wilson, a sales and marketing executive with National Construction. “We’re putting some sweat equity into it.”
Six community groups have already volunteered to plant and maintain a flower bed. One of those volunteer groups is Robin’s Wings, a Wesley Mission program overseen by Washington. Robin’s Wings brings Mansfield-area women from a variety of socioeconomic backgrounds together to serve the community.
“We have women of a very high socioeconomic standard to ones who are actively using our food pantries,” Washington said. “They’ve been tasked to go out there and work that plot and give back. They will learn to serve at the same time that many of them are being served.”