Cynthiana Christian Church Plants the Joy with a “Garden of Eden” Small Group
It started out as a joke and grew into pure joy! That is the story of one of Cynthiana Christian Church’s newest small group ministry projects, “The Garden of Eden Small Group.”
One wintry day this past year, the Assistant Minister was visiting with a hard working member of the church, Richard Perkins. He commented that the recently purchased corner property by the church parking lot would make a nice vegetable garden plot. “We could call it ‘The Garden of Eden’ since it is a church garden!” They laughed. Richard joked further about how it would never have any vegetables for the church people to pick. Everybody walking by would help themselves!” They laughed again.
A few days later, Richard approached the Assistant Minister with some news. He had told Elder Dr. George Frazier about their jovial conversation. Elder Frazier loved the idea of the church having a vegetable garden. We could provide fresh vegetables to people in the church and community who can no longer grow vegetable gardens! And he had the land out in the country for the garden! The joke was now on the Assistant Minister! The two men were serious!
“Ah…Ah…Ah,” was all the Assistant Minister could say. Coming to himself, he noted, “There would have to be enough volunteers to tend to the garden and make deliveries of the picked vegetables. Besides, you have to know how many members would really want those vegetables.” As soon as he said that and saw the look on Richard’s face, he knew what he had to do…find those volunteers and recipients in Cynthiana Christian Church, “A People Who Care!”
On just one Sunday, a survey was taken in only two adult Sunday School classes. People were asked to sign up for a POSSIBLE “Garden of Eden,” a garden to provide fresh vegetables for members who could no longer grow vegetables. Richard agreed that 12 to 24 volunteers would be needed for such a project. There were 26 volunteers who enthusiastically signed up!!!!! More than enough volunteers…hopefully! Yes. But how about those who would want the vegetables? Would there be enough to make the effort worthwhile? Maybe not.
The Assistant Minister made a basic list of possible recipients from his regular calling list. He asked three other members of the church to go through the church directory and add more names. He then called those listed members and asked if they would appreciate receiving vegetables the following summer, and if so, what vegetables would they like?
The results of the survey unbelievably confirmed that “The Garden of Eden” Small Group was going to happen! The number of recipients was immediately 55 members who could no longer grow vegetables! Requested produce was: tomatoes, zucchini squash, yellow squash, butternut squash, cucumbers, green beans, beets, bell pepper, cabbage, broccoli, corn, cantelope, and water melon. Only a couple of people declined, because they had access to fresh vegetables through friends and family. And every one LOVED the idea! Therefore church newsletter articles and announcements were made inviting members to join the “Garden of Eden Small Group and to submit names of possible recipients.
A meeting of the volunteers was held after morning worship one Sunday. A possible loose strategy was established, directions to the garden spot with a few ground rules were drawn up. A devotional packet was handed out, encouraging the volunteers to dedicate their garden work to the glory of God each time they participated.
Eventually, the basic strategy for this first year of “The Garden of Eden” evolved into Master Gardner Richard Perkins preparing, planting and tilling the approximately 3/10ths of an acre garden. When the produce started coming in, volunteers were notified of the need for their help picking and/or delivering. Typically, four to seven people at a time would report to the garden about 7:30 AM to 9:00 AM on Wednesdays and Saturdays. About four to 10 volunteers would meet at the church about 9:00 AM to assemble bags of produce and make deliveries. During the peek of the growing season, there were about 25 to 35 deliveries on Wednesday and the same amount on Saturdays.
The results of this sweet ministry, which began as a joke, made a bundle of joy. The number of “Garden of Eden” volunteers grew from 26 to over 40. Many were members discovering the joy of ministry for the first time. Several of the recipients of the vegetables who were once very active, but found themselves of late less able to be active, were rejuvenated. They helped in making deliveries and loved being active again, doing the work of the Lord. Volunteers and recipients made new friendships through visits at delivery times. Many a lonesome soul had a wonderful visit from a person who cared for them. The joy of being appreciated and remembered flowed back and forth between recipient and volunteer.
Tammy Scott, one of the regular “pickers” and deliverers came in from her first round of deliveries so excited, “I’ve met people in the church whom I’ve never known! They are so sweet and grateful for their church!” Tammy soon had certain people whom she wanted to visit regularly; new friends in Christ.
The number of regular recipients soon grew from 55 to well over 65. There were so many vegetables that volunteers were able to deliver to folks outside of the church family…friends, family, neighbors who could not grow a vegetable garden. They even were able to take vegetables home for themselves! On many summer Sundays, worshippers were able to bag up all the vegetables they wanted before heading home, AFTER all the possible deliveries could be made the day before.
BATCHES of fresh vegetables were delivered to the common grounds of two senior citizens’ living projects. The joy was unbelievable! The deliverer would tell just a couple of the residents who were out and about as (s)he drove into the projects. By the time the vegetables were put out, residents were coming from all over with smiles and expressions of gratitude.
One of the recipients in one of the projects told a volunteer how she took a HUGE zucchini from the last delivery and made six loaves of zucchini bread. Her eyes sparkled, and her voice quivered as she said, “I was able to give those six loaves to other people here in the neighborhood!” Her delight and joy in being a servant of God in such a unique way, though she was with limited financial means, added to the joy of the whole congregation as her story was shared.
Katherine Smith, a 92 year old regular recipient of the vegetables, said, “I think it was just commendable. I enjoyed the vegetables so much AND the visits.”
Summing up his observation of the project, Dr. Larry Bishop, Minister, said, “In all honesty, it was the principle of ‘double win’ in terms of those who gave and those who received.” He added, “It was not only the vegetables that were important. It was the virtues of Christian love and compassion.”
Typically, by the end of a growing season, around 900 deliveries of fresh vegetables are made by the members of Cynthiana Christian Church’s “Garden of Eden Small Group.” Each delivery contained a little slip of paper with these words: “These vegetables have been grown, picked and delivered to you with the love of Christ by Cynthiana Christian Church’s ‘Garden of Eden’ Group… ‘A People Who Care’!”
Cynthiana Christian Church’s community visibility as “A People Who Care” magnified this summer. EVERYBODY in Cynthiana heard and talked about what those people were doing for others with their “Garden of Eden.” The joy flowed as people talked about a loved one’s joy when receiving the fresh vegetables.
Yes, God works in mysterious ways. He can turn an off-the-cuff joke into pure joy. “The Garden of Eden” received no water this dry season except from Heaven. This lead many to acclaim the garden’s bounty as God’s miraculous doing.
Cynthiana Christian Church will long remember this joyful and humbling experience daring to share His love…and joy! Plans to repeat this ministry project and small group are already being made. There’s more joy to plant. NO JOKING!!!!
How to set up a "Garden of Eden" Small Group project:
During the Winter Before:
1. Be sure that you have available land for the project which will not likely be vandalized. (We had 3/10ths of an acre garden on a member’s farm. We did not have access to water except from Heaven!)
2. Be sure that you have enough volunteers who will work the garden and make deliveries. (We determined that at least 12 to 24 volunteers would be needed. There were 26 volunteers to sign up in the winter. That number grew to over 40 as the project progressed.)
Do this by writing a brief paragraph description of the project and make a blank list allowing people to sign up, give their phone number and e-mail address. (We took our list to only two adult Sunday School classes, talked of the project and then passed the sign-up sheet around.)
Also have a newsletter article and bulletin announcement inviting people to join the project.
3. Be sure that you have enough members “who once grew vegetable gardens but can no longer do so who would like to receive vegetables” throughout the next growing season.
Have about three volunteers go through your church directory or membership list to compile such a list. Also invite members to request such a service and/or suggest names of members who might enjoy the service. Do this for several weeks so everyone has a chance to be on the initial list. (We had 55 members on the original list.)
4. Appoint a “Head Gardner.” This person should be a very experienced and successful vegetable gardener who is willing to give as much time as (s)he needs to throughout the gardening season and do much of the garden preparation work.
5. Allow the “Head Gardner” determine an initial list of vegetables that should be in the garden.
6. Make a chart of the potential recipients of the vegetables along with their addresses and phone numbers in columns. To the right of the name/address columns, list the vegetables proposed by the “Head Gardner.” (We grew: green beans, bell peppers, cabbage, corn, cucumbers, okra, tomatoes, yellow squash, zucchini squash, butternut squash, cantelope, watermelon, broccoli, and beets.) Be sure to have large enough blocks in the chart so as to post all the dates the recipient received a particular vegetable. Add requested vegetables suggested by recipients as they are interviewed.
7. Interview each potential recipient and explain the project. Ask if they would like to receive any vegetables which grow. Explain that there is no guarantee as to the availability!
If they want to be a recipient, go through the list of vegetables and mark each one they would enjoy receiving.
8. After everyone is contacted and has given their preferences, calculate a list of the vegetables with how many folks requested each vegetable.
9. Calculate the amount of seeds, plants and space which will be required. (We invested about $300 to $500 of materials. Much of this was donated along with several financial contributions.)
10. Contact your local County Extension Service about procedures for taking a soil sample and follow those procedures to best determine needed fertilizer and soil preparation. Your Extension Service will have good information on growing vegetable gardens; especially concerning multiple plantings which extend your growing season.
1. If you want, start growing your plants in a greenhouse when recommended.
2. Plow the garden space about 8” to 10” deep in February or March as recommended and possible in your area. Fertilize as recommended by your County Extension Service.
3. Harrow and/or till as needed when the ground is dry in March or April as recommended and possible in your area.
4. Start planting as recommended for your area. (We planted most of the first things in May.)
5. We fertilized after the plants started coming up and were about 3” to 4”.
6. Plant tomatoes after danger of frost (early May in our area). (We put fertilizer in each plant’s hole as we planted.) (We planted 100 tomato plants.)
7. Put cages around the tomatoes later (at the end of May in our area).
8. We planted “tenderette” green beans. They do not have runners nor are pole beans, and the taste good! We planted 3 or 4 in each hill. The hills were about 12” apart, leaving room to hoe and chop. We stepped on the planted seed to foster germination. (We planted 4 90’ rows of green beans at a time.)
1. When the green beans were 3” to 4” tall, we lightly fertilized them; using a hoe or tiller to till in the fertilizer. We did this as much as possible with all vegetables.
2. Till and chop weeds as needed. We needed four people about 2 hours/week. Till after rain, when dry enough, in order to seal in moisture.
3. Concerning growing corn: We used “candy” corn, “silver queen” corn and “golden queen” corn.
We planted 3 to 4 grains per hill. Each hill was about 3 feet apart. (We planted 6 rows of corn first, then 5 rows two weeks later, and then 8 rows two weeks after that.)
When the corn was 6” to 8” tall, we fertilized lightly and tilled in the fertilizer.
After the corn was 1 foot tall, we thinned the corn to 2 stalks/hill.
After the ears “set on,” we put electric fence around the corn to keep out raccoons. The electric fence was constructed by putting the bottom strand 3” from the ground and a 2nd strand 8” from the ground, using “pig tails” for posts. (Consult a garden center about fence chargers, wires and insulators.)
We planted “sugar baby” watermelon, a small round melon. It was the perfect size for a single person.
4. Check the garden regularly for insects, etc. We sprayed the garden for insects as needed regularly and did NOT pick for SEVEN days after spraying.
5. We sprayed our corn in the tassel area as soon as tassels appeared.
6. We sprayed the corn silks after silks appeared.
7. For us, picking produce started about the last of June and went on until the last of September.
We gradually and for the most part picked two days/week (mornings of Wednesday and Saturday). It typically took about 4 to 7 people about 1 ½ to 2 hours (from 7:30 to 9:30 AM).
When it is determined by the Head Gardener that it is time to work in the garden and/or pick on a certain day, all volunteers need to be contacted by e-mail/phone (a couple of days ahead when possible). We tried to have 4 to 7 “pickers” a day.
One of our pickers would help pick until nearly all the produce was picked and it was possible to determine how much there would be. As much of the picked produce would be loaded in his/her vehicle. That person would then go to the church, unload and arrange the produce on tables. (This person may need help.)
8. The picker who headed to the church first takes the “master list” of recipients with their requests, a stack of half sheets of scrap paper, and pen.
A recipient’s address and phone number is written on a half sheet of paper along with the produce to be delivered to that person.
The date is placed in the box of the vegetable(s) listed on the half sheet of paper on the recipient’s row on the master list. This helps keep track of who is getting what and when and helps keep the distribution pretty even across the list.
We typically delivered to about half of the recipients on one day of the week and to the second half on the second day of the week.
9. Deliverers arrive about a half hour after the one person begins making the delivery orders (about 9:30 AM for us). Anywhere from four to 15 folks would come to make about 25 to 38 deliveries. The work is better distributed and briefer for volunteers when different teams are used to pick and deliver on the same day.
The deliverers take a half sheet delivery order and fill it using plastic bags. (We used about two boxes of bags across the growing season.)
After filling the order, a little ticket with these words would be dropped into the bag:
“These vegetables have been grown, picked and delivered to you
with the love of Christ by…Cynthiana Christian Church’s
“Garden of Eden” Group… ‘A People Who Care’”
Then the half sheet delivery order sheet would be tied into the top of the plastic bag. This helps the deliverer to easily see to whom the delivery is to go.
10. After all deliveries are filled, pickers and deliverers are free to share in the left over produce and take produce to people they know in their neighborhoods and families. This extends the ministry into the community from the church.
11. Remaining produce on Saturdays would be put on a table with plastic bags for any worshiper to take on Sunday morning.
12. Also, any remaining produce would be delivered to two senior citizens neighborhoods. It would be placed on tables in the common grounds with the following sign: “FREE…These vegetables have been grown, picked and delivered to you with the love of Christ by…Cynthiana Christian Church’s “Garden of Eden” Group… ‘A People Who Care’”
Deliveries of tomatoes were also made to members in an assisted living center as well as to Hospice.
1. After clearing the garden in the fall, interview owner of the property, Head Gardener, volunteers, and recipients for ideas on how to improve procedures and whether or not to continue this ministry the next year.
2. Finalize revisions and plans for the next year.
3. Compile a report to the church and publish in the newsletter. Consider having a portion of the morning worship service to praise God for the joys of this ministry from the past season. (Thanksgiving Sunday would be good.)
4. Start recruiting volunteers and recipients again during the winter.
The Garden of Eden Ministry is one of many ongoing projects Cynthiana Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) has through which you can minister and be ministered to.