That was the voice of Ely Wakefield on Sunday morning, after church, bags in hand, vegetables on the café table; she was doing her Sharing Manna Garden Mentor duty.
Well, not exactly. Really, Ely was just being a friend, at home in the garden, sharing stuff, the thing you do when people stop by and visit. It’s what my Grandma does when I drive to her house in Virginia (although Ely isn’t my grandma’s age). By the time I’m ready to leave, I’m loaded up with jars of Grandma’s famous pickles, plastic bags full of mustard greens, and some cucumbers for my salad. It’s not a duty; it’s love. It’s home.
This vegetables-in-the-café phenomenon has been going on lately, ever since the soil and seeds in Sharing Manna Garden started doing its springtime dance with the sun and the rain. Whenever we’re at GreenTree, we now see something green, yellow, or red on the café tables or counter, and we can’t help but pick up something and turn it over. Wal-Mart bags aren’t too far away, either. That’s because we’re free to grab some things to take with us, because it’s love. It’s home.
I got that feeling Sunday morning when I saw Ely talking with some visitors. A couple of new friends had come after being part of a chess tournament that one of our GreenTree friends had hosted Saturday. There was also a mom with a cute toddler-aged daughter.
“Want some green beans?” Ely asked her, grinning and arranging the beans in neat piles.
“Sure, that sounds good,” the young mom said. “How do I cook them?”
I can’t help but think I’m correctly speaking for everyone at GreenTree when I say that there’s something nice that happens when you see piles of green stuff—food—life—on the tables and counters of a place where people come to see what’s going on with “this church group.” It says that we’re home. It says that it’s not about some kind of program, or a race to see how “successful” we are based on our group numbers. It says that life happens here, that love grows here.
Home is where we’re not just polite and only offer customary smiles, or enroll people in fix-it programs and hustle them in like cattle to be added to our herd. Home doesn’t always match the ministry brochures of what a successful church is supposed to look like. Home sometimes looks messy. Home is a place where arguments come up, because the energy it took to be out in the world all day falls away in a big tired breath of relief, and our real selves emerge, and sometimes it’s not pretty. Home is where you rest so that you can face the world again. Home isn’t where you go to get a bulleted list that outlines your life; it’s where you get a hug and a bag of green beans.
If you stop by GreenTree any time soon, you can look directly through the parking lot to the back and see how lush and full the garden has become. Ely and her helpers have skillfully cooperated with God’s natural world and brought forth results as pretty as my Grandma’s ruffled rows in her back yard. It’s not perfect; no home is. There are a couple of groundhogs that are making a pesky nuisance of themselves right now, as a matter of fact. But we hope you’ll look at it and think of home. And please stop inside: we’d love to have a good chat over a bottled water or a Pepsi, and chances are that there will be some zucchinis or tomatoes if you’d like to bag up some to take with you.
A couple of weeks ago, a group of garden enthusiasts at GreenTree met and discussed expanding and improving our community garden this spring. They envisioned a place where our Winston-Salem friends could gather food for their families. They looked forward to the possibility of making new friends who wanted to help embrace and love our surrounding neighborhoods by digging their fingers in the soil and helping volunteer.
Ely Wakefield, a GreenTree member who’s doing an internship at the Master Garden Volunteer Program of the Forsyth County Cooperative Extension, is heading up this group of gardeners and helpers and setting the pace for the gardening project. Ely introduced to the group the concept of “our garden” by encouraging an anyone-can-garden mentality.
“Everyone can garden,” Ely said. “Children can garden, middle aged people, and older people can help with this garden. A lot of people are busy and work, and they might say, ‘I don’t have time to garden.'” But, Ely asserted that there are numerous ways we can help, even those of us with a lack of abundant time or physical energy.
Imagine children coming to drop seeds into the ground on a work day. Or someone dropping by right after work to do a few minutes of assigned watering. “Mrs. Peggy,” Ely added with a smile, referring to one of our GreenTree folks, “gave me some money for the garden. Zoyia said she was going to buy a rosebush.” Picture a friend bringing a few plants to church on a Sunday morning and handing them to a garden worker. Not only does a little money go a long way, but a little water and a plant sprig will make a new plant for free. Plant propagation, a strange and fancy term for some and a household phrase for others, is something that several GreenTree members are already involved in in preparation for the upcoming planting. Carol is in this propagation process, rooting a Wandering Dew whose branches she snipped about three weeks ago and placed in water. Pretty soon those little snips with new baby tangles of roots will go into the soil at GreenTree.
Tiny acts of sharing, like the gifts mentioned in Romans 12 and I Corinthians 12, add up to a complete and multifaceted picture. In this case, a few rumpled, weedy patches of land behind a community building and along the winding paths of trees can become a bright-colored source of nourishment to hungry or busy people stopping by, and a lovely haven where segregated groups can work together in friendship. Sometimes we just need to know someone has open, vulnerable and liberal hands.
The name of this newly-improved, quaint place we’re hoping for? Right now, it’s just GreenTree Garden. That’s the name that’s listed for the time being, under the Forsyth County Gardens of the Cooperative Extension. GreenTree members were encouraged to come up with an agreed-upon name that can reflect the spirit of community and beauty that we’re hoping to show through this project. The chosen name will be announced on Sunday, March 25.
Four different types of gardens will grow on GreenTree’s property. A rain garden will catch the runoff from the gutter in the back of the building. According to information from the Cooperative Extension program, rain gardens are useful for preventing the pickup of pollution as well as beneficial in absorbing nutrients and some metals. What sits in the back of our building at the moment is a dry and cracked patch of earth that becomes a dismal waterhole during damp weather. This area will be filled with water-resistant plants, establishing a pretty and nourishing spot.
We’ll also enjoy a vegetable garden, filled with possibilities such as cucumbers, tomatoes, zucchini, squash, potatoes, okra, eggplant, greenbeans, melons, onions, and more. A garden for fresh herbs will be a plus for GreenTree cooks as well as neighbors who want to flavor up their meals; and of course, the idea of beauty in sharing would be incomplete without a flower garden. Flowers will garnish the front and sides of the community center and provide its color.
Unlike our activity in the past few years of our community center’s gardening projects, our garden now will be directed with the generous help of the NC Cooperative Extension’s Forsyth County Center. The Community Gardening program has allowed us to receive services in the form of education (such as the Master Gardener classes) and resources such as seeds and plants. For more information about the Forsyth County Cooperative Extension, visit their website at http://www.forsyth.cc/ces.
GreenTree’s first order of business will be Community Garden Cleanup Day on Saturday, March 24, from 9am to 12pm. The cleanup day will be a time of tilling, weeding, digging, sharing, laughing, getting dirty, and pigging out on the free dough-nuts inside GreenTree’s cafe. Who would want to miss out on that?