What is happening in the open fields behind Crossroads Grace Community Church is not exactly the biblical multiplication of bread and fish.
But when you have 10-foot-square garden plots producing vegetables that are helping feed untold numbers of hungry individuals and families, one may consider that as a modern-miracle phenomenon of somewhat biblical proportion.
“It’s amazing how much food comes out of that ground,” said Donna La Crosse in awe about the productivity rate of the small gardens behind the church that are visible from the southbound Highway 99 freeway.
La Crosse is the designated garden leader in this Crossroads project that is part of the church’s outreach ministry.
The plots are available to anyone who is interested in raising vegetables for their dining tables at home – plus flowers if they so wish, as is the case with a few of the 20 gardeners who have become part of this small grassroots community food-producing revolution of sorts. The only requirement for participating in this venture is an annual fee of $25 that each gardener pays for each plot.
“That covers the water – we supply the border for the plots – and two bags of fertilizer, for starters,” explained La Crosse.
The gardeners have to bring their own garden tools for hoeing, raking or pruning as well as any additional soil amendments that they want to apply to their plots. They don’t have to worry about finding a water source or irrigation tools such as a watering can. The garden area is equipped with water faucets and watering hoses for the gardeners to use.
“We have seven spigots and each one of them has a hose,” said La Crosse, although when interviewed earlier this week, she reported that two of the hoses were broken and in need of replacement.
And one does not need to be a member of the church to reserve a garden plot.
“The idea behind this is to bring fresh food to your table or to donate to needy families, food banks or individuals in need,” explained La Crosse who tends a couple of the two-dozen vegetable plot that are now thriving.
She raises vegetables for her own family, and the rest is either traded with other gardeners who are raising other varieties. Practically all of the participating gardeners give away a large portion, if not all of their garden produce, to other individuals and families that they personally know who are having a hard time stretching their budget, or to food banks and similar philanthropic agencies.
“It’s amazing how much food comes out of that ground, and they grow fast! I can’t eat all the food that come out of that garden so sometimes we share (with the other gardeners). I have green peppers, and someone else has (another type of) green peppers that I don’t have, so it works out so well,” said La Crosse.
“The gardeners donate quite a bit of their food as well,” she added. Anita Columbus and her “better half” Tom, for example, donate the bulk of the produce that they pick from their two plots to the Food Pantry outreach ministry of St. Paul’s United Methodist Church in Manteca to which they belong.
Some of the fresh vegetables from the gardens have also been donated to Second Harvest Food Bank, the Bread of Life, and other similar outreach programs and ministries in the area. A few days ago, La Crosse and another gardener went and picked four sacks of squash, all kinds of peppers and other vegetables from the gardens which they later delivered to Bread of Life for the outreach program’s food distribution the following day.
Once they have paid the modest annual fee for each plot, the gardeners then take over the responsibility of keeping up their garden and maintaining the area around their plots.
“Take the (spent) flowers off (deadheading), do a little weeding, and keep the aisles (between the plots) clean,” said La Crosse, naming some of the standard chores.
Each person chooses what kind of vegetables, herbs or flowering plants they want to grow in their plots, “as long as it’s edible and it’s legal,” La Crosse s aid.
“Every gardener has something different. Myself, I have onions, green peppers, zucchini, and some melons. I have other gardeners who have tomatoes, and others with cucumbers and pumpkins.”
Gardeners supply their own seeds. They also have to bring their own tools because “we don’t own tools” that the gardeners could take turns using because, as La Crosse explained it, “we don’t want to spread diseases from garden to garden” should one garden become infested with pests or plant diseases.
While the program participants are responsible for their plots, there are areas that the members all help maintain. There is, for example, an herb garden that does double duty as decorative accent around a large cross planted in a central location of the field. Everyone is welcome to help themselves with the mint, basil, rosemary and other herbs growing in this common garden anytime.
Other garden areas where everyone is invited to pitch in include a place for meditation complete with a bench, an arbor covered with blooming perennial morning glories that also provide shade for another bench placed below the metal trellis. When the gardeners need to sit a spell or rest while they are working on their plots, they can always retreat to the benches and be serenaded by the birds that come to drink at the decorative bird bath or to help themselves with the seeds at the bird feeder next to it. At the foot of the bird bath and bird feeder are large stones on which the words of The Lord’s Prayer are written. Other stones contain scripture passages.
La Crosse said program participants can go to work at their garden plots anytime they want.
“The only thing we suggest is that if you’re coming at night, don’t go alone for safety. It’s just common sense. There are no restricted hours. Sometimes I go when it’s just starting to get light. Sometimes my son and I go in the evening when we’ve been busy during the day,” she said.
Community garden is the “pastor’s baby”
La Crosse said the garden project started in July of last year and was the brainchild of Crossroads founder and senior pastor Mike Moore.
“This is his baby,” La Crosse said of the vegetable outreach project.
There is some “unused land” behind the church on Moffat Boulevard facing Highway 99 which led to a brainstorming on how to make that area useful and productive. A community garden was suggested, so the pastor “and a few other people came together and said, ‘yeah, this is a good idea’,” explained La Crosse.
“Sometime down the road, they may decide to build” something in the open fields in the back of the church, “but in the meantime, we’re putting the land to good use and feed some families,” she said.
Summer’s produce are still at their peak, but some of the gardeners are already making plans for fall and winter plantings.
“These are year-round gardens. There’s a lot of vegetables you can grow in the winter – snap peas and snow peas and stuff like that,” La Crosse said.
Right now, they have space left “possibly for 10 or more” garden plots. There are plans to “seed the area with some trees and flowers, but that is still being mulled over.
“We’re still growing and developing the area,” La Crosse said.
For more information about how to get involved in the Crossroads Church’s community garden project, e-mail Donna La Crosse at firstname.lastname@example.org or contact the church office at (209) 239-5566 and leave a message.