The Garden of Sharing Takes Root

by Jay Wintermeyer

Gretal Cromwell with her son at the Spokane Community Garden

Gretal Cromwell and her son enjoy the new plants coming up in the community garden she helped get started for the Spokane Better Living Center.

SPOKANE, Wash., 8/22/2012 - When the Better Living Center in Spokane was looking for a way to grow beyond being a food bank serving Spokane and offering other household and baby supplies, Gretal Cromwell, a board member and fan of gardening, began exploring options to start a community garden.

“We serve more than 500 people a month at the Better Living Center,” says Gretal. “We wanted to do more because we see more need. We’ve been looking for ways to grow.  Just giving food is not enough.”

The center is located in a small building in Spokane and shares its space with Adventist TV station, KHBA channel 39. People come to the window to pick up their food and go. On-site personal counseling is impossible.

Gretal thought a garden was fitting with the center’s and the Seventh-day Adventist Church’s mission to help people discover ways to live healthy lives—body and soul. “We want the outside to reflect what happens inside,” she says.
 “Being vegetarian is a personal choice for members, not a salvation issue.  As a church we promote a healthy lifestyle that includes vegetarianism,” she said.  “We promote wellness of body because our bodies have a powerful connection to our spiritual and mental health.”

Gretal got the idea for the community garden and found resources at the 2011 Second Harvest conference she attended. Funding for the project became available when Hope for Humanity, an international Adventist aid organization provided $6,800 to the center.

With funding in place, the center needed land. A local Adventist family gave the center use of three acres for the community garden. The property has a pond in a secluded meadow surrounded by trees and teeming with birds and wildlife.
This spring, after receiving the grant and a place for the garden, Gretal organized a planning meeting. Twenty people came and committed to seeing the process through. The group drove to the land and realized three acres “isn’t a garden, it’s a farm,” she says.

Little by little the project began to come together. First of all they had to fence the garden area in order to keep out the local deer who enjoy dining on veggies. In addition to fencing they needed an irrigation system to keep the gardens watered. A local business donated a pump and three pressure tanks for a well that was already on the property. Another member donated a small greenhouse so they can grow plants that would not have time to grow in Spokane’s short growing season. A third volunteer dug the trenches and installed the sprinklers.

The community garden outreach is a volunteer effort. Most volunteers have come from four Spokane Adventist churches, but they seek more volunteers from youth groups and Pathfinders. Gretal is currently seeking a master gardener to provide expertise.

“We’ve started out small this year,” says Gretal. “While we have three acres available for the project, we’ve initially fenced and irrigated one acre.” The garden is divided up in to two sections. One section provides food for the Better Living Center to donate fresh produce to families in need. The other section is divided up into family plots where people can come and grow food for their individual needs.

Families work on their plots together. Gretal, who has a toddler and is expecting another child, often brings her family to the garden with her.

“We’ve decided to make this an organic garden,” says Gretal. That means more work and learning a lot about organic methods. The land, which has not been farmed for many years, is full of grass and weeds. They’ve had to till numerous times this year to keep the grass under control, but this avoids using herbicides.  Instead of using chemical fertilizer they use cottonseed fertilizer or manure.

In addition to improving the nutrition intake of families in need, Gretal hopes the garden will cultivate relationships, allowing volunteers to interact with the people they serve.

Gretal believes health grows by giving people ownership and teaching them to grow their food. The garden is open to anyone in the community interested in learning about gardening and growing their own food. Gretal hopes to have a mentorship program with volunteers who work plots beside people who do not know how to garden. In addition the volunteers plan to arrange a bus or carpool system to bring those without transportation to the garden.

“God reminds me that this project is bigger than what one person can do,” Gretal says. “Because of the baby, I have to rely on other people. I appreciate the support system in Adventist churches. We are instruments, but God is the one who begins the work and will finish it.”

We’re called to share the life we have in Christ with others. Gretal says that “includes our health.” If we have healthy bodies, we can think more clearly, make better decisions and understand God better. By adopting a lifestyle with exercise, rest and diet, we can begin to experience an abundant life today.