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Building community during COVID

#17: Meet Jean, Garden Leader at Cedar Hill Community Garden

“I am the Garden Leader at the Cedar Hill Community Garden at Green Mountain United Methodist Church. We have been working on the building of our garden for six years since we first received Lakewood City Council approval in Ward 1.

Our garden is going to be a bee garden. We have beekeepers and are going through the permitting process. We also have a daycare called “Tiny Hearts” and they have a garden plot as part of their STEM program. We surveyed our community because we wanted to model the garden after what they wanted it to become. We had to raise money for building. So we started grassroots fundraising. We were able to raise about $40,000 within the community through plant sales, selling bricks, and through memorial donations. 

If you think about planting a seed, not every seed is going to grow. Whether it’s grant writing or an anonymous donor, you put seeds out there, and some of them will germinate. And if it doesn’t happen one way, it’ll happen some other way. Sometimes very unexpectedly. That’s how our garden developed; it became a strong foundation for our community in just one season.”

“My husband surprised me with a To-Grow Box for my birthday this past May. It was right in the middle of COVID. We were in the middle of building all 20 plots in our garden, and then COVID hit, which limited how many of us could build at a time. But we persevered and finished.

My mother was a master gardener, but I had never planted in a community garden before. So this was new for me. Every plot ended up under cultivation. We used the garden to feed our community. I couldn’t believe how much food the plants and seeds from my To-Grow Box produced!

The To-Grow Box included a lot of hot peppers. My sister-in-law is from Vietnam, she came as a refugee when she was nine years old. She uses a lot of spicy peppers in her traditional cooking, so she and I had a lot of fun with the peppers from my To-Grow Box. She is connected with the Vietnamese community around the garden. They loved using swiss chard, which is a lot like bok choy. The garden connected these communities together. It connected our Green Mountain Community with the folks who are shut-in. It connected homeless people, it connected people living in the section eight housing next-door.

My plot became the heart of the garden. I would go to water my plot, and would realize that someone had already watered it, and I ended up with this entire network of people (gardeners and non-gardeners alike) helping me harvest. We all went out and visited those people that were shut-in and brought them fresh veggies. We sat in their garages or next to their beds and chatted with them. Our faith is oftentimes referred to as the “ministry of presence.” We go out and listen to our community. We don’t have the answers. Just being there with someone can make all the difference. We found recipes for them to use with the produce we gave them. One of our elderly church members loved snap peas and tomatoes, so that’s what I would bring to her. I sent her pictures of the garden. She is now going to donate the benches and pergola for the shade area. These community members are now donating leaves to our garden to nourish the soil before the spring season comes. 

We also had little kids from the neighboring section eight housing units come to the garden and I told them that they could harvest from my plot. They use the garden parking lot for skateboarding and bike riding. We are going to host a bike rally for them. They love snap peas. One of their moms would pick zucchini from the garden. Her kids didn’t like zucchini, but she made it into bread, which they all loved. So I showed them how and when to pick zucchini, and they started doing it on their own. It was like an Easter egg hunt for them. 

“One To-Grow box has fed over 100 people. And that number doesn’t even include all the folks who walk through the garden and just have a snack on their way to their destination. I started keeping track of how many people we delivered food to, but once my list got to 80 people, I just stopped counting. When you harvest the fruits from a garden, it will just keep on producing. The garden reached into more than one community. It led us during COVID.”

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