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Published: Saturday, 6/13/2009

Church garden cultivates vegetables, minds

BY CARL RYAN
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Richard Jackson, 12, and his sister, Mahogany, 10, both from Toledo, water plants at a garden at Monroe Street United Methodist Church. The church s Bridge Ministries distributes food baskets to neighbors in need. The garden is tended to by volunteers, many of whom are children with little knowledge of where their food originates. Richard Jackson, 12, and his sister, Mahogany, 10, both from Toledo, water plants at a garden at Monroe Street United Methodist Church. The church s Bridge Ministries distributes food baskets to neighbors in need. The garden is tended to by volunteers, many of whom are children with little knowledge of where their food originates.
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The community garden at Monroe Street United Methodist Church grows plenty of lettuce, kale, broccoli, and collard greens, but it has a byproduct that may be even more important: education.

Among the dozens of volunteers who plant, weed, water, and otherwise tend the cultivars are young neighborhood children from lower-income families who know nothing about where food comes from, said Sandra Avilez, who oversees the garden project as director of the church s Bridge Ministries, its sponsor.

One girl wanted to plant mac and cheese. I told her you don t plant that, so she grew broccoli. Another wanted to plant chicken nuggets. One child didn t know that eggs came from chickens, Ms. Avilez said. Working in the garden is an educational experience. They learn about growing vegetables and the nutritional value of fresh produce too.

The garden itself has come a long way from its origins several years ago, Ms. Avilez said.

It began in the churchyard with four small wading pools used as planters. Today it comprises 20 raised beds, each 8 feet by 4 feet. It also has a greenhouse thanks to Toledo GROWs, the community garden outreach program of Toledo Botanical Garden, and a worm garden, which teaches children how worms enrich soil.

From 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Wednesday, the garden produce is distributed.

Some weeks there are a lot of takers, Ms. Avilez said. Bridge Ministries also offers other food items for families in need.

The garden volunteers come from all walks of life. They show up when they can and record what they did on a board in the greenhouse. Their recent accomplishments include a new split-rail fence.

David Harrsen, who lives in downtown Toledo, was at the garden yesterday donating his services.

Our whole purpose is to grow vegetables that can be distributed to the neighborhood, he said.

Joe Zielinski, the church administrator, said the garden is part of Monroe Street United Methodist s commitment to provide neighborhood-based programs, along with the neighborhood center that is on the blockwide church grounds.

This church is part of the neighborhood, even though most of our worshipers are not nearby neighborhood people. This is part of the way we show that, he said.



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