At Zion’s Evangelical Lutheran Church in Perry Township a new ministry continues to grow. In spring of 2014 a 75’ x 100’ patch of its property was tilled, and the Northern Berks Community Garden (NBCG) was begun. The NBCG is a nonprofit organization that was started in order to assist low and moderate income members of the community acquire healthy, locally grown produce through the local food pantry system. We are working to grow and donate vegetables such as cucumbers, yellow squash, cabbage, beans, peppers, beets, lettuce, tomatoes, kale, onions and more to the food pantries that serve the communities of Northern Berks County.
The idea to create a community garden at Zion’s came from then Interim Minister, Reverend Dr. Dennis Ritter. Pastor Ritter felt that “Zion’s is blessed with many resources/assets to do a project like this – broad agricultural knowledge, a willingness to serve their Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, a compassion for those who are struggling in life, a good well, and land that was sitting idle.”
The 2nd season just ended, with a total of 8086 pounds of produce donated to local food pantries: 5858 harvested pounds, 593 additional produce donated to the Garden for distribution, and another 1635 pounds purchased from a local produce auction to add to our harvest. This is 2328 pounds more than last year’s produce donations to those in need.
This season we have been pleased to expand our local deliveries through the Keystone Military Families Pantry, Shoemakersville, and the Salvation Army of Hamburg. This has helped us reach an increasing number of thankful Berks County individuals and families. Our outreach efforts have also encouraged community members to drop off extra produce from their gardens on our weekly work days.
Nancy Dusko, Garden volunteer, noted “through scheduling our local produce deliveries, we have learned how many families are supported by each food bank on a regular basis. There is a real need in our community, and the food banks are doing amazing work.”
Wanda Bechtel, Northern Berks Food Pantry Coordinator, shared “our Food Pantry serves approximately 120 families each month. The challenge of serving that large quantity of people is finding healthy, nutritious food that meets all their needs. We try to keep all our offerings simple, yet satisfying to different races and cultures. The healthiest food we can provide is fresh from the garden, and our recipients are always happy to receive fresh produce. The Garden has been a huge benefit to our pantry, and well received.”
Our Monday morning and Thursday evening work days were not only a time of planting, watering, staking, and harvesting, but a time of fellowship for those involved. Garden tips are given, family news is shared, and fun is had by all that come to share their gifts.
We have been truly blessed by the outpouring of support from our congregation members, Zion’s Church Council, and local churches, businesses, organizations, and community members who have supported us with financial contributions and in-kind donations of seeds, plants, tools, and labor. We also applied for and received a $500 grant from the Synod Witness and Service Team. The grants are funded through Synod wide Mission Support (benevolence) giving. If you are interested in information, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or check online at zionslutheran.org/community-garden.