Last Wednesday I was part of a Connections Call hosted by Lutherans Restoring Creation. The other panelists represented gardens/prairies on Chicago’s Southside and Madison, Wisconsin. The stories were remarkable and I was honored to be on the panel.
Follow this link to get to the recording of the Connections Call: https://lutheransrestoringcreation.org/church-soil/
What follows is what I shared during my time, the story of Trinity Community Gardens in Nampa, Idaho. Trinity Community Gardens Inc (TCGI) was founded in the spring of 2008 by three master gardeners (Paulette Blaseg from St. Paul’s Catholic Church and Dale and Sheila Anderson from Trinity Lutheran). From the beginning, they were very clear about their mission: grow healthy produce and help others grow produce. Community partnerships were also key. My predecessor, Pastor Wendell, encouraged them to create their own nonprofit and put the home garden plot on the church’s front yard, so the partnership with the congregation was primary.
When I began at Trinity, the other key partners were Job Corps, the SILD (sheriff inmate labor detail), and the University of Idaho Extension’s Canyon County office. Later, Job Corps built its own garden, so we lost those volunteers. Funding for the SILD crew has gone up and down.
Extension Horticulturalist Ariel Agenbroad taught her six-week Victory Garden series in Trinity’s fellowship hall. This inspired our gardeners to start their own two-day Gardening Workshop. A student collected all the materials from the first classes and suggested compiling a book. We received a grant from the Idaho Episcopal Foundation and published a Spanish/English version of Growing to Feed Many.
The gardeners have often recruited labor for gleaning local vegetable fields. I asked Ariel one day if there were a recipe book we might distribute with the produce, so people would easily know what to do with so much cabbage and kale. She did not know of such a resource, so I suggested an ELCA Domestic Hunger Grant. Ariel encouraged me to talk to her colleague Joey, a food preservation educator. We added hands on food preservation workshops to the grant.
Ariel also encouraged her master gardener students to complete some of their required hours at TCGI. When Ariel moved to Ada County to work with small farms, I was seriously worried. Her successor had other ideas about volunteer hours. Then, in December 2014, Dale died at age 57. Dale had been on disability since TCGI’s founding and had donated countless mental and physical hours to the garden. I wondered what Paulette and Sheila, both still working full-time, would do. They stayed focused on growing produce, teaching classes, and fostering partnerships.
The relationship with Trinity Lutheran remained steady, in part because the garden’s home plot was a physical reminder of the church-garden relationship. In 2014, 2015, and 2018 we helped organize a Nampa spring blessing of the gardens tour. This helped nurture the connection with the congregation.
In 2019, Sheila let us know that the following year she would be moving to Oregon to be near her kids and grandchildren. Paulette was planning her retirement. What was her commitment? I wondered again what would happen to the garden.
Meanwhile, a new horticulturalist, Nic Usabel, came to Canyon County. Paulette and I both made a point to meet him. Then in February 2020, Lindsey Rhoades, the coordinator of neighboring West Middle School’s 21st Century Club made an appointment with me. We brainstormed lots of ideas and, in a conversation about gardens, I encouraged her to connect with Nic about the Junior Master Gardener program.
A few months later, Kathleen Tuck, the coordinator of LDS volunteers in West Nampa, wanted to meet with me. We sat under a tree in front of the church and talked about various projects. I mentioned that Paulette was trying to get a crew together, in the fall, to replace some of the oldest raised beds in the home garden plot.
In October, Kathleen followed through and brought a small but dedicated crew to pull out the old beds and replace them. It was not until I started pulling out the rotten wood that I truly understood what had happened and how real the need was. In January, Lindsey asked to meet with me again. Nic had trained a whole group of Junior Master Gardeners at West Middle School and they wanted to practice their skills. Could TCGI utilize these volunteers? I connected Lindsey and Paulette and the youth are volunteering weekly this spring. Paulette, like Dale, is an enthusiastic teacher and gardening mentor.
One of the first community-wide meetings I attended in Nampa, back in 2011, was for a High Five Grant the city received from the Blue Cross of Idaho Foundation. TCGI had been part of writing the proposal, hoping to start refrigerated mobile food produce in different parts of Nampa. After hours of meetings, piles of post-it notes, and politics that I never inquired about, mobile food produce did not make the cut for final grant implementation.
But a few years later, a group of citizens started talking in earnest about food access in different pockets of Nampa. I still remember where I was standing in my house when retired nurse Pam Peterson called and invited me to a grass roots meeting. Jean Mutchie’s then 10-year-old daughter had an idea for mobile food produce and the idea started getting some real traction. The Traveling Table was launched in partnership with Treasure Valley Leadership Academy, the Idaho Foodbank, Good News Food Pantry, TCGI and other partners in January 2019. When I volunteered last Wednesday, I was told that the refrigerated truck has finally been purchased.
I do not know how or when the story of Trinity Community Gardens will end but I think some lessons can be gleaned from its history. As we all help pivot organizations to the new normal, we will do well to be clear about our mission, look for new partners, and know that our timeline may not be the same as the Holy Spirit’s.