In the spring of 2014, St. John’s Community Garden (SJCG) was established to grow fresh produce for the Martha T. Simmons Food Pantry. The garden is located behind the Parish House at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Marion, NC.
In the first year, garden volunteers were able to produce over 700 pounds of fresh vegetables. Annual harvests since then have ranged from 800 to over 1000 pounds, depending on seasonal weather conditions. In respect for God’s Good Earth, any fruits and vegetables not used by the food pantry and non-human consumables are composted or donated to a local pig farmer, keeping organic matter out of landfills, returning it to the agriculture ecosystem. Since the beginning, local farms, greenhouses and community members have donated plants and garden materials in support of the SJCG.
In 2016, the McDowell Technical Community College GED, English as a Second Language, Adult Basic Education, and Early College students began volunteering in the St. John’s Community Garden with more than $2000 in total scholarships awarded to students dedicating significant time in the garden.
In 2017, over 1,000 pounds of vegetables were gleaned from Erma’s Produce and LNJ Farms by the St. John’s Gardeners and distributed at the Martha Simmon’s Food Pantry. In 2017, a Human Hurt and Hope grant from the WNC Diocese funded the installation of a crosswalk through the garden, increasing accessibility.
In 2019, community gardening memberships were established to help offset some of the gardening expenses. Similar to the Community Supported Agriculture Model (CSA), members contribute to the garden’s annual operational fund and receive a share of the harvest in return. Thanks to funds raised from the garden memberships, SJCG acquired and installed a permanent watering system in 2019.
In 2019, a gift in memory of Dean Wall, a dedicated volunteer in Martha Simmon’s Food Pantry, funded our first university student intern from Warren Wilson University.
The 2019 St. John’s Garden added more flowers that attract bees, native pollinators, and beautiful butterflies. Two full rows of the garden were taken over by zinnias which were used in the church, shared at the McDowell Senior Center and nursing homes in McDowell County.
In 2020, cut-your-own flower memberships were added to the CSA program, raising additional funds and spreading the beauty harvested from the SJCG. Flowers were moved to raised beds and border plantings around the vegetable garden. An additional rock walk way was installed for gardeners’ access to cut flowers for the church and other functions. In May of 2020, SJCG began selling cut flowers at the Historic McDowell Tailgate Market raising enough funds for one student intern for 2021.
Unfortunately, during 2020, Early College students’ community service learning hours requirements were suspended due to COVID 19 which significantly reduced our volunteer garden team. SJCG was able to obtain a UNCA Health and Wellness Senior to complete his required internship for 6 weeks in summer of 2020.
With growing understanding of COVID 19 transmission – we realized it’s easy to maintain safe social distance in the garden and masks are not required as long as social distancing is maintained. Currently volunteers and an intern are being recruited to help make the 2021 year a success.