Saint Peter’s in Salisbury began a garden ministry in 2015. The congregation sits on about 13 acres of land. There are many people in the congregation who have a good knowledge of farming and gardening. We also understand that part of God’s mission is that the hungry be fed, so it seemed to be a natural fit. The garden produced 108 lbs. the first year. Each year it has increased to the point that last year it produced around 630 lbs. of produce.
The value of partnerships has become obvious in the past few years. An early challenge was distributing the food. The initial idea was to simply get the word out to our neighbors; however, people in this area are resistant to taking any help. Instead, we ended up taking the produce to Rowan Helping Ministries in town (about 13 miles), the Community Care Clinic (also about 13 miles) and an after-school program in the north part of the county until this year. This year marked a turning point for this ministry. That turning point consists of three partnerships working together for the good of our neighbors.
- The congregation is part of the North Carolina Synod of the ELCA. Last year, we were awarded a Peeler-Casey grant to covert the garden to raised garden beds. Saint Peter’s sent out 50 letters of invitation to every congregation in a 5-mile radius, regardless of denomination, inviting them to join us by taking care of one raised bed. Saint James Lutheran Church in Rockwell took on a raised garden bed. The raised garden beds are much easier to care for and are expected to further increase production. The whole garden sits on about 1/4 of an acre.
- Saint Peter’s partnered with Rowan Helping Ministries to be the site of Rowan Helping Ministries East. Each Saturday from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m., disciples at Saint Peter’s serve to feed their neighbors. Part of the food their neighbors receive is fresh produce from the garden. Rowan Helping Ministries East is connected with the main branch of Rowan Helping Ministries by sharing the computer system as well as having USDA food provided by the main branch. People at Saint Peter’s and neighboring congregations such as Luther’s Lutheran in Richfield and Saint James supplement these items with additional food and money that is collected and given. Each month sees an average of 15-20 neighbors visit, many of whom have never received this needed assistance before.
- A partnership with “Healthy Rowan!” grew out of a partnership with the Community Care Clinic in Salisbury. Healthy Rowan! is a community development committee that works to increase the health of Rowan County residents for their own benefit as well as attracting new economic investments in the county. It is led by people representing business, medical, civic and faith organizations. It was Healthy Rowan! who arranged for the donation of a commercial grade freezer and industrial scale to get Rowan Helping Ministries East going. The congregation also partners with Healthy Rowan! for a health fair in the fall which includes cooking lessons and a mammogram bus. This all happens on a Saturday morning along with Rowan Helping Ministries East.
These partnerships have empowered the garden to serve their neighbors with fresh and free produce that is much needed. The eastern part of Rowan County has been severely affected by the opioid crisis as well as generational poverty. The rural nature of this area also creates a food desert unless one owns a car. Partnerships have paved the way forward to serve those in the eastern part of Rowan County.