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Faith Based Community Garden Helping Those In Need

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Jade Artherhults / West Virginia Public Broadcasting
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Produce is set out for community members to take.

The First Lutheran Community Garden is located on a small lot on the corner of 19th Street and Liberty Street in Parkersburg. The property used to be an apartment building, but when it was torn down, the church decided to purchase the land and start a garden. The mission of the garden is to make produce available to those who may struggle getting it otherwise.

It’s 2 p.m. on a Tuesday afternoon, and with an hour to go until the free produce stand opens, people are arriving from all directions and from various neighborhoods in Parkersburg. The crowds are waiting for the free produce stand to open. Patricia Harman is one of the volunteers. She’s covered in dirt from working in the garden, and she has to shout over the growing crowds of people to be heard.

“I live alone so it’s really nice ‘cause I can just take one or two tomatoes and a mess of beans. So it makes it convenient for me,” community member Jane Couch said.

Tomato Plants Ransacked

When the church first started this garden in 2012, members of the community were free to go into the garden and pick the vegetables whenever they wanted. But about a month ago, the volunteers decided too many people had been ransacking the garden in the middle of the night for tomatoes. The volunteers decided to lock the gates and give out free produce at designated times.

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Credit Jade Artherhults / West Virginia Public Broadcasting
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Recent theft has caused the church to lock the garden's gates.

Another one of the main garden volunteers is church member Don Ery.

“From out at the other garden they have squash and cucumbers, and a lot of beans,” he said.

Match Made in Heaven

Public demand for fresh food began to get so high that volunteers started thinking about expanding to another space, explains Bob Friend, another volunteer.

“Last year, Don and I talked about it and we decided to try to have another garden because we found that the need here was much greater than we could provide with the small garden we had here.”

Bob and Don were then presented with the perfect opportunity to expand when a woman offered up her garden. Carlina Titus owns a piece a lot across town. She says she offered up her land because she was impressed with what the First Lutheran Church had done to build their first community garden.

“I would see them working there when I went to work in the morning and when I came home in the evening,” she said.

Carlina’s husband has early stages of Alzheimer's, and their large garden was becoming too much for them to take care of.

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Credit Jade Artherhults / West Virginia Public Broadcasting
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Bob Friend tends to the church's second garden.

“So one day I just stopped and asked them because my husband said, ‘I’m going to have to let half of it grow over ‘cause I can’t use it,’ and I thought, ‘No not after it’s been tilled and used and everything else. That would be a shame.’”

Carlina and her husband’s garden is located just north of the Parkersburg city limits next to a busy two lane highway. It’s almost twice the size of the garden on 19th Street. Just this year, they’ve given away over 400 pounds of produce to the community.

Fresh Produce in High Demand

The Parkersburg free produce stand still runs out of food most days that it’s open, but the volunteers are now able to give away a lot more produce with the addition of Carlina’s garden.

“We picked cucumbers yesterday. There’s a whole row of cucumbers out through here and this is all squash,” Bob said.

Bob and I traveled back to the garden at the First Lutheran Church, where Patricia was beginning to stock the shelves of the produce stand. She filled the shelves with large ripe tomatoes, eggplants, green and yellow peppers, carrots and plastic bags filled with fresh green beans.

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Credit Jade Artherhults / West Virginia Public Broadcasting
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Produce doesn't last long once it's put in the stand.

Dexter Cunningham is waiting in line for vegetables. He says not only does he benefit from the garden, but his sister and her children do too. He gets them produce from the stand for them to pick up later.

“When it’s hot and you’ve got kids it’s hard to get out of the house. So I usually just get it and they come in on the weekends and get it from the house,” he said.

It’s a bit of extra work to hand food out personally, rather than just leaving the garden open for people to pick food on their own. But the volunteers who help run this garden, like Patricia Harman, say it’s worth the time to know that people in need are getting nutritious food that they wouldn’t get otherwise.

“Well, the lady who said ‘I haven’t had fresh vegetables in years because they’re too expensive’. So that was really, really nice that we could give her fresh vegetables,” she said.


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