Growing in faith: Interfaith Ministries feeds mouths, and souls, with community garden
by Madasyn Czebiniak
mczebiniak@annistonstar.com
Sep 06, 2013 | 2952 views |  0 comments | 13 13 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Volunteer Charly Ford picks vegetables at the Interfaith Ministries community garden in Anniston Aug. 29. Stephen Gross/The Anniston Star
Volunteer Charly Ford picks vegetables at the Interfaith Ministries community garden in Anniston Aug. 29. Stephen Gross/The Anniston Star
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In the wee hours of the morning, Rembrandt, a tiny grey kitten in a sea-green collar, can be seen skittering around Charly Ford’s feet in the Interfaith Ministries community garden on Circle Drive.

Ford, who lives right behind the array of corn stalks and plump red tomatoes, volunteers her time to help those without a place to call home tend to their garden.

“Normally I have my own and I wasn’t able to do that this year,” she said, placing a handful of ripe green beans into her wicker basket with a grin. “Now I have one in my backyard and I feel like I’m giving something back to the community.”

The idea for a community garden — to feed the hungry and give the homeless a meaningful activity — took root in the mind of Martha Vandervoort, executive director of Interfaith Ministries, last January. In April, the first seeds were sown and the land next to the old Anniston First Baptist Church was prepared for planting with the help of volunteers like Rev. Deacon David Whetstone of the Episcopal Diocese of Anniston.

“We came out here, and I’d like to say we did everything wrong, but it still works,” said Whetstone.

The retired botanist has been a key figure in keeping the garden healthy — a calling, he says, that stems from a dream.

“When I was going through my deacon training I wanted to start a garden to feed people,” Whetstone said. “All of the stories about miracles in the New Testament are about feeding people.”

Vandervoort said the garden is really an all-encompassing community effort. Local farmers help tend the garden by plowing and mulching, the Anniston Fire Department sends out a brush truck to water the plants and the seeds and tomato cages were donated by Downing and Sons General Store in Anniston and the Tasteful Garden, a fully organic garden in Heflin.

“It started with just a couple of farmers and tractors. It’s been neat to see how the community has come together,” Vandervoort said.

A majority of the crops are donated to the Anniston Soup Bowl or taken home fresh off the vine by volunteers and Interfaith clients. For a lot of clients, the crops are a significant part of their livelihood.

“They know we’re taking it to the Soup Bowl and that’s where a lot of them usually eat,” Vandervoort said.

Holding a plastic grocery bag full of greens, Marvin Dixon, who eats at the Soup Bowl at least once a week, said he enjoys working in the garden not only for the fresh fruits and vegetables he takes home, but because he feels it’s already done a lot of good for the city.“People gather together and tend to the garden and that means a lot to a community like Anniston,” he said.

During each morning harvest, Whetstone reads a passage from the Bible beneath a shady tree on the outskirts of the garden. As they bowed their heads on a recent Thursday, thanking God for his blessings, Rembrandt scurried up a nearby tree to watch over them and the garden.

He does that every night, Ford says.

“We’re very lucky we have a lot of influential people who want to make sure people have something to eat at night,” said Whetstone. “This is in the neighborhood where people need it most.”

Staff Writer Madasyn Czebiniak: 256-235-3553. On Twitter: @Mczebiniak_Star
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