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The-Harvest-wheelbarrowFew people ever see the large garden that is out of sight on the Southwest Church of Christ property at 5500 Ardmore Avenue in Fort Wayne, Indiana. This year, three dedicated volunteers, along with help from a few church members, grew 8,000 pounds of garden produce that was donated to the Community Harvest Food Bank, near South Town Mall.

Alan Meneely, Pastor of the Southwest Church of Christ says, “Letitia, Michelle and Jeff have run with it. Sometimes things happen by design and purpose, but I can’t say that about this garden!”

Pastor Meneely and his wife originally had a small garden behind the parsonage where the current garden is located, then the youth minister helped them enlarge it with the idea they would not have as much grass to mow.

“Around the year 2000 people started asking for assistance,” said Pastor Meneely. “We thought we could help by passing out a few vegetables.” The garden was much smaller; there were only three short rows of corn, some tomatoes and beans. The Youth Minister, Chris, knew a man with a tiller who helped make the garden much larger and that next year it produced around 2000 pounds. “Then along came Jeff Calder, an expert gardener, who doubled the size of the garden,” continued Pastor Meneely. “Jeff worked with the Community Garden and decided to grow items that were high volume and well liked. Jeff even harvested seeds for the next year’s garden.”

Thinking only of others during the last 4 years, the three dedicated individuals were inspired to work the garden almost daily. Michelle Bunn, and her mother Letitia Clark, came almost every day and sometimes into the night. Jeff Calder, a member of the church, came weekends and nearly every evening after finishing his day job. The three have maintained the garden from planting to harvest so that others could have quality food that they could not normally afford.

Jeff Calder, an outstanding gardener, had a unique idea. That idea was for an indoor greenhouse (double-sized), which he built in the basement of his home. A friend of Jeff’s, along with a church member, each have one of the greenhouses; with Jeff starting the plants and distributing them to the others, it is possible for him to control the growing of all the starts and small plants.

Jeff’s greenhouse is like a small box taking up a space of about 4×8 feet in his basement. Simple double tube office fluorescent lights provide internal lighting for the plants; heat comes from rope-type Christmas lights laid under the flats containing the plants or seeds. The heat in the greenhouse is thermostatically controlled while small fans circulate the air to toughen the plants. Each holds 20 flats and each flat holds 50 starts, so you can see the capacity of these greenhouses. No seeds or plants were purchased for the year 2014 and Jeff provided all of the following plants as starts: 300 regular cabbages, 100 red cabbages, 60 cherry tomatoes, 120 Roma tomatoes, 80 okra plants, plus many other plants too numerous to mention.

Come harvest time Jeff goes about collecting the heirloom seeds by selecting the plants, removing them, then drying the seeds for next year’s garden.

The fall harvest was ongoing for weeks as the different items ripened and matured. The three gardeners, and a few other volunteers, (Fran was a big help), gathered the ripe produce and put it in containers that were loaded on Letitia and Michelle’s truck each Monday morning to be delivered to Community Harvest Food Bank. Each load was typically between 600 and 1000 pounds, with the total for the year 2014 being over 8,050 pounds.

“This was an abundant year and I think it is a testament that God had bigger plans then we did,” said Pastor Meneely. “We had the property and God seemed to provide the people to run it.”

The Waynedale News Staff

Don Voelker

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