Gardeners sow seeds of sharing

Doylestown Mennonite Church garden
Volunteer Marylee Chittick gets rid of weeds in the community garden near the Doylestown Mennonite Church on Saturday. Half of the produce will go to area food pantries. Photo by Kim Weimer--Intelligencer staff photographer.

by Christina Kristofic
Intelligencer Reporter
phillyBurbs.com
ckristofic@phillyburbs.com

Once or twice a week for the past several weeks, folks from the Doylestown community have gathered at Doylestown Mennonite Church to work the soil. They have sweat under the hot sun as they have planted varieties of tomatoes, peppers, potatoes, squash, carrots, beans, herbs and flowers.

But when it comes time to harvest the fruits (and vegetables) of their labor in a few months, the gardeners will take home only half of the produce — maybe less.

And they think that’s great.

The men and women who have been working in the Sandy Ridge Community Garden agreed from the beginning to give at least 50 percent of the produce they grow to local food pantries and soup kitchens.

Ginny Kane, a retired secretary who lives in Plumstead, said she’s “absolutely thrilled” to be able to fulfill a need in the community.

“This time and age, especially with the economy and everything, people are lookin’ out for themselves,” said Dave Pinchick, a master gardener from Buckingham who has been working in the garden.

“This reminds me so much of my days at Millersville with the Amish. These people are real salt of the earth — they work together as a community for the community. They give up so much of their time and efforts for the benefit of everyone.”

The Sandy Ridge Community Garden was started by Sharon Shaw, a landscape designer who lives in Doylestown Township. Shaw had volunteered in community gardens in other communities and wanted to start one close to home. She drove past the Doylestown Mennonite Church every day and saw a field of sunflowers, and thought that field would be just the place for a community garden.

So Shaw stopped in to visit the church’s pastor, Randy Heacock.

Heacock said, “A number of years ago, we tried to think about… How do we use our facilities for ministries? That land out there, we often thought it would be neat to do something of this nature on. But we never had anyone come forth and say, ‘Hey, I’ll organize it. I’ll pursue it.’ When Sharon stopped in one day, it was an answer to prayer.”

A few members of the church help out with the garden. But many of the volunteers on Shaw’s e-mail list are from outside the church.

Heacock said the community garden allows church members to “rub shoulders with people that probably in many ways are very close to us geographically and we never had the opportunity to meet or didn’t make it happen. It opens up the opportunity for them to understand who we are, what we pursue and opportunities to share similar joys or similar concerns, and to pray with them.”

The church is not just there for its members, Heacock said, “What we have is for all. And Sharon’s desire to have the garden reach out to food pantries, that just sits very much with our desire (to give to the community outside the church). There are people in need and we can easily help with that.”

Shaw’s plan to give produce to local food pantries and soup kitchens grew from her volunteer work at a soup kitchen in Lansdale. She said: “When you work there, you get a sense of the menu. The menu is a lot of processed food, a lot of canned foods. Really, nothing fresh comes in the door. More and more, we’re hearing a lot of stories about how important that is — good nutrition, fresh local foods. I want to make sure people have the same access to good, fresh local foods that we do.”

New Britain resident Dave Horn has been volunteering with the food larder at New Britain Baptist Church for about 10 years; he said the organization doesn’t get much fresh food in donations. He figured helping out in the garden would be a way to get some fresh produce for the larder.

The land at Doylestown Mennonite Church is a “nice area,” Horn said. “It’s got good soil there, compared to a lot of areas around.”

The community garden has had quite a bit of help from community members and businesses. Shaw has donated machinery for tilling and other parts of the project through her landscape design and construction business, Martin Shaw LLC. Histand’s Equipment donated hoses and gardening tools, Jeffrey Sparks Excavating donated compost, Bucks Country Gardens donated seeds and landscaping design company Just One Seed donated seedlings. Several other gardening businesses and private gardeners also donated seeds or seedlings.

Many of the plants are starting to grow.

“Hopefully, it will continue,” Horn said. “Hopefully, the weather cooperates. That’s always the big thing.”

If you want to give your time or seedlings to the Sandy Ridge Community Garden, you can “like” the garden on Facebook or send an e-mail to buckscommunitygardens@gmail.com.

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