A ‘growing’ ministry

Local church garden supplies produce to families in need

by Josh Whitener

Riley Fields (left) and Grace Godwin show off the zucchini they’ve helped grow as part of Idewild Baptist’s new garden ministry. Josh Whitener/UCW photos

MINT HILL – Members of Idlewild Baptist Church with green thumbs are growing vegetables to give to those in need.

When the Mint Hill church purchased 33 acres of land behind the campus about 10 years ago, the goal was to use the land to reach out to the community. Since then, the property, a combination of wooded area and open space, has been used for an airsoft ministry, the “F.A.I.T.H. Trail” (an outreach hayride that takes place during the annual fall festival) and most recently the newly launched garden ministry.

Gardeners donate their bounty each week to the food pantry at the nonprofit Matthews HELP Center, which serves people in Mecklenburg and Union counties.

The garden ministry was the brainchild of church member Jimmy Godwin. About three years ago, Godwin had a vision to use a section of the land for church members to plant crops, harvest them and donate a portion of the produce to families in need. After putting the idea on the backburner for a while, Godwin decided to take a leap of faith and approached the church with the idea at the beginning of the year.

“I’ve often wished God would speak to me audibly, but there have been times in my life when I was positive he was giving me directions and this was one of those times,” Godwin said. “I began to think about the land back there and it was just back there growing up, and I thought there were probably people in the church who would enjoy gardening.”

Godwin held a meeting, inviting church members interested in gardening to show up and learn more about the plan for a church garden. He expected three or four people to come but to his surprise, 17 people attended – and they all signed up to be part of the ministry.

Earlier this year, several church members volunteered to clear and till about an acre and a half to be used for the garden. Members established two faucets from the church’s well to be used for irrigation in the event of little rain. And in mid-April, the land was fertilized and church members began to plant their crops.

The garden is made up of about 26, 100-foot rows of crops and about 40 plots, and contains 15 different types of vegetables. The church members are allowed to use the land to plant their own crops, provided they donate at least 25 percent of the harvest to the church’s charitable efforts.

Each Wednesday, from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m., members come and gather their produce and leave their donations with a representative from the church’s benevolence committee who makes sure the produce gets to those in need.

The original idea was to give the donations to individuals the church had helped out in the past. But when members’ 25 percent exceeded the need of those directly linked to the church, plans developed to expand the ministry to assist others in the community, and the benevolence committee teamed up with the HELP Center to donate produce to the nonprofit’s food pantry.

During the month of May, the Matthews HELP Center supplied 588 people with enough food to last an entire week, according to the center’s Executive Director Kim Rhodarmer. The center is always in need of additional items for its food pantry and is grateful whenever an organization decides to step up and help, she said.

“It’s very special for our clients to receive produce – cream-of-the-crop produce – that they’re unable to purchase at the grocery stores based on limited available funds for grocery items,” Rhodarmer said.

Although they don’t get to see firsthand the results of their service, church members know their donations are reaching families in need. When church member Ron Bigham delivered a load of produce to the HELP Center last week, a representative from the center was taking it to a client as it was being unloaded.

“You never know where it’s going, how many people it’s helping,” Bigham said that day. “The only clue I had was this morning, but you know the need is out there. We’re just glad to be able to help out in some way.”

Thanks to a successful growing season, church members are sharing crops with each other, friends and neighbors. And people have already shown interest in signing up for the ministry next year.

“We’ve had great participation so far,” Rev. Keith Whitener, the church’s senior pastor, said. “Part of my vision is that we become a community, a place, that gives food away. I’ve got my plot back there and I’m loving giving it away.”

Editor’s note: Union County Weekly staff writer Josh Whitener is a member of Idlewild Baptist Church. His father, Keith, is pastor.

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