There is a lot more growing at WestWind Christian Church Community Garden than fruits and vegetables.
There is a bumper crop of gardening information, new friendships, the wonder of watching plants grow, healthy eating and sharing the bounty with others.
That’s just what the garden’s organizers had in mind when they opened the community garden to the public in 2011. “We had all this wonderful land next to the church and we wanted to share it. It was a way to encourage families and individuals to learn about gardening, grow their own vegetables, eat healthy and share with others,” explains Pam Shoop, the community garden’s coordinator.
Individuals, families and groups – experienced gardeners or not – may adopt a vegetable bed in the community garden adjacent to the church at 1300 Sarah Brooks Drive in Keller. More than 30 beds in three plot sizes are available, renting from $20 to $35 a year. Water, mulch, compost and soil amendments are available. Gardeners bring their own seeds, plants, tools and enthusiasm. There are some elevated beds for those with limited physical abilities.
Organic gardening is encouraged and gardeners are asked to donate 50 percent of their crops to the underserved. Last year the community garden donated 1,579 pounds of vegetables mainly to Stepping Stones Foundation and Evergreen Senior Living Center.
Kindergarteners at Shady Grove Elementary School next door plant a spring garden each year.
Novices are welcome. Shoop and her group notify gardeners of upcoming classes and The Tarrant Area Food Bank has a Learning Garden at Ridglea Christian Church in Fort Worth with a variety of free classes and workshops. A list of classes is at https://www.eventbrite.com/o/tarrant-area-food-bank-5847617783. And gardeners share their knowledge as they work alongside each other.
Sean Ollan Hickman-Crager didn’t let age or lack of gardening experience stop him from becoming a WestWind community gardener. The nine-year-old spied the garden while riding his bike last year. He asked Shoop what was required and went home to ask his mother’s permission. Neither parents, Delia or Jason Hickman-Crager, had raised vegetables, but Sean’s Ollan’s success with a pepper plant showed his commitment to growing things.
Sean Ollan did his research and his one vegetable bed soon expanded to three. Of the many vegetables and fruits, he has grown, his favorite crop is peanuts, “which is kind of a rare, cool plant to grow. People think they grow on trees, but they grow in the ground,” he explains. “I just like the process of watching plants grow.”
“I can honestly say I have eaten more vegetables this summer than ever in my life,” says Delia Hickman-Crager. Sean Ollan even planted a garden over spring break at his grandparents’ house in Louisiana.
The family is moving to Alabama where Sean Ollan will have four acres to garden. All good training for his announced plans to buy a large farm in Iowa when he grows up.
Several years ago, Tina Boothe of Keller was looking for something she could do with her two young daughters and found WestWind Community Garden. She had never gardened — “no flowers, no fruit or vegetables” — but she figured she could learn and the girls could push dirt and water.
She found a community of gardeners willing to share their knowledge and eager to teach them the very basics. “Me and the girls were amazed by the growing process. It was like magic. We found we had a knack for growing things.”
Last year Boothe started a part-time job and her garden bed went unattended. Recently she teamed up with a friend who also missed having a vegetable bed and now they share the space. “We alternate days working at the vegetable bed. I missed it when I couldn’t be there so a good alternative is to share. The girls, now nine and 10, still come with me.”
Donating a portion of their crop was also appealing to Tina Boothe. The family has gone on mission trips together and stress community service. “As a part of the community garden, delivering vegetables and working at the Keller Farmers Market, the girls have met people of all ages, all situations. They have made connections in the community they might not have made otherwise,” says Boothe.
Being on the receiving end of the fruits and vegetables has life-changing consequences, says Christina Bynum-Breaux, founder of Stepping Stones Foundation. Founded in 2009, Stepping Stones Foundation helps at risk children providing clothing, supplies, emotional support, mentoring – and sometimes food.
“WestWind Community Garden found us and we are so glad,” says Bynum-Breaux. The fruits and vegetables go to a family each week, a family that is struggling.”
She tells of Edwin, a Type 1 diabetic who fainted at school. He wasn’t eating properly. “With donations from the garden, Edwin is excited that his mother is cooking vegetables for him.”
A vegetable delivery becomes a teachable moment. The kids research recipes and send her photos of what they have cooked. More than one has talked about a culinary career.
“The fruits and vegetables that we take for granted are so appreciated by our families. It is food on the table and the kids get educated about what is healthy for them.”
Monday is the favorite day at Evergreen Senior Living Center/Keller, says Jan Heineman, lifestyles service coordinator. “That is the day that we play bingo and it is the day that fresh vegetables and fruit from WestWind Community Garden arrives.”
The residents at the 55-plus living center love having the fresh produce to cook with and it may be a life-saver if they were unable to go to the store. ‘”It really makes a difference in their lives. WestWind has never missed a Monday in more than three years.”
There are plots available, says Shoop, and plenty of teachers to help novices plan the fall or winter garden. For more information on the WestWind Church Community Garden, contact the church at 817-428-6775 or www.Westwind-Church.org/Community_Garden.html