Monday, June 22, 2020
Growing a CommUNITY Garden

You may have passed by it numerous times, but you’re not really sure what it is - this week we’d like to acquaint you with the large garden on the north side of our campus.

The garden has long been a fixture at First Pres (anyone know how long? – please let us know), and for many years operated as a community garden. That is, individual families had plots within its space, and harvested produce for their own use.
Leslie Pohl has been involved with the garden since 2011. She remembers the many improvements that have been made by First Pres over the years: tilling and developing the soil; adding a shed and fencing; and running water out to the plot.

The summer of 2017 saw a decline in the number of families involved, and 2018 brought a new format and partners to the space.
A local organization, CommUNITY Garden, approached First Pres about utilizing the garden for its program to provide fresh produce to local organizations in the Lehigh Valley. Leslie’s involvement as both a long-time gardener there, and her chairmanship of the church’s Mission Committee made it a natural connection to make.

A group of about nine volunteers – including two master gardeners and helpers from four other congregations – tended gardens that summer. The produce was shared with Daybreak, a weekday drop-in program in Allentown which gives people living with mental illness or physical disabilities and those struggling with addiction or HIV/AIDS, as well as the neighborhood’s elderly, a place to belong and eat nutritious meals.
For 2019, First Pres also engaged the kids in our Preschool program – they assisted with the creation of a scarecrow (right, with Leslie Pohl) , and grew some of their own vegetables!

Almost 500 pounds of fresh produce were delivered to New Bethany Ministries in Bethlehem, and Safe Harbor in Easton. End-of-the-season dinners were hosted by each congregation, featuring foods harvested in their own garden.

Over the winter a plan was formulated to make the garden more of a learning environment for 2020.
The two master gardeners would present weekly classes in the garden, to acquaint more people with the ‘how to’s’ and benefits of growing their own vegetables and flowers.

Unfortunately the pandemic has somewhat impacted that plan – however, despite that change in intention, the CommUNITY Garden is thriving!
The vegetable portion of the garden (which continues to be financially supported by our Mission Committee) now has plastic in the beds to keep down the weeds, and the rows of cabbage, broccoli, eggplant, peppers, potatoes, tomatoes, and squash are loving the moist, warm climate (right). A smaller portion of the garden is planted in cannas, native plants, perennials, and herbs. Gourds and zinnias have been sown for the Preschool classes to enjoy.

There are several community partners who also support this effort, with both financial contributions and donations of resources and materials; a new fence was installed last summer by a generous donor.
Remember that plan to turn the garden into a learning experience? It has not gone completely away.

If you are interested in learning more about gardening – either because you’ve never done it before or you’d like to improve your skills – you can ‘learn by doing’.
Here are your opportunities to learn by volunteering:

  • The master gardeners are on hand every Wednesday from 5:30-7 p.m. They work with the volunteers to plant, weed and water.
  • Other volunteers are needed to learn the procedure to water the garden on other days of the week. You would come for a brief training, then sign up for specific days; it takes about half an hour to water the garden.

Through all this, health protocols are in place – wearing masks and keeping a safe distance! Because of these protocols the number of gardeners has to be monitored, so you will need to RSVP for specific dates.

If you are interested in either of these opportunities, please contact Leslie Pohl via info@fpc-bethlehem.org or leave her a message at 610-867-5865. Grow your own green thumb while you help others enjoy fresh, nutritious produce grown right in their own neighborhood - by their neighbors!