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Erik Curren: Freshening up the food pantry

AC-garden-ded-300x206In a city of churches, everyone knows Allen Chapel AME Church, which dates back to 1865 and is the oldest church established by people of color west of the Blue Ridge, as a Staunton institution.

Rev. Edward Scott of Allen Chapel, congregation member and Food Task Force appointee Rachel Carpenter and me at Allen Chapel’s new garden. I love the color on the gourd.

It also doesn’t hurt that the congregation’s pastor, Dr. Edward Scott, is renowned far beyond his own pulpit as a powerful speaker, gifted teacher and community leader whose own enthusiasm for cheerful action is dangerously infectious.

I understand that Allen Chapel has acted on a lot of issues to improve Staunton over the years. And I’ve also learned that when their congregation talks, people around the city listen.

So now, when Dr. Scott’s congregation is talking about food, I am hopeful that other congregations will join the conversation.


Adding produce to a food pantry

For years, like many churches, the congregation has run a food pantry. Now, spurred by congregation member and Food Task Force appointee Rachel Carpenter, Allen Chapel is converting a big part of its front lawn into a highly visible garden to grow vegetables to give out at the church food pantry.

I was fortunate enough to attend the dedication of the garden yesterday. There I ran into my City Hall colleague Douglas Guynn, who serves as Staunton’s City Attorney. The Guynn family’s charitable foundation offered support to help get the garden started, covering the costs of raised beds and other supplies.

The Allen Chapel garden will be a blessing to families who can enjoy more wholesome food along with the pride and empowerment that comes with cooking fresh ingredients themselves. It will also be a blessing to members of the church, who’ll develop a deeper relationship with their own community work, while enjoying the fresh air and fellowship that all gardeners cherish. And the garden will be a blessing to the city, further beautifying the neighborhood and serving as a model for other Staunton communities of faith to follow.


Mulchway to heaven

As Dr. Scott’s dedication prayer put it, the garden will be nothing less than an “awesome entrance to heaven.”

That might sound like pretty dramatic language to talk about a mere garden. But, as a gardener myself, it resonates. Gardening is a humble activity with awesome consequences.

Dr. Scott informed me that he adapted his dedication prayer from a text originally written by another pastor to dedicate a church building. In context, it’s clear how well the analogy of church building and garden space works:

Beloved, we have now set apart this place to be none other than the place where God lives, the awesome entrance to heaven; however, such a dedication is in vain with out the solemn consecration of those whose gifts are herein represented; let us now give ourselves anew to the service of God, that the fruits of our labor may tend to the glory of God and the advancement of His kingdom.

Whatever your faith — or even if you don’t follow a religious path — if you love gardening and see healthy food as doing good work for people, communities and the planet, I hope you fill find inspiration in these words, as I did, to recommit yourself to growing food to eat and to share.

If you’re a gardener, consider partnering with a local food pantry to take your surplus crop. An organization called Ample Harvest, whose mission is “No Food Left Behind,” connects 40 million home gardeners to programs in their area that can use their extra fresh produce: “Garden by garden, home and community gardeners and other growers are fighting hunger and malnutrition in America.”

– Erik Curren, Staunton Food Policy Task Force

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