Petoskey United Methodist Church’s vegetable garden changes lives of those in need. As the heat of the day subsides and the sun begins to sink behind the trees, the serenity of the Petoskey United Methodist Church’s community vegetable garden can fully be grasped. The curious music of the drums and horns of the high school marching band down the hill makes for a unique setting as volunteers move through the planted rows.

The project was first initiated ten years ago by Charles Johnson, Emmet County Circuit Court Judge. The garden was meant to hit three birds with one stone: to engage church members, to provide fulfilling community service opportunities, and to supply fresh produce directly to Manna. On Monday evenings, the group gathers to harvest sugar snap peas, green beans, cabbage, squash, tomatoes, and other vegetables for Manna to provide to their pantry clients the next morning.

The process begins in March when the leaders get together and diagram it all out—from the beets to the greens—according to the size of rotating plots. Then they go to work. After seeding, they stick to a spraying and fertilization schedule. The organizers are thankful for Bill McMaster and Gruler’s Farm Supply, who have generously donated the seeds every year.

The garden with humble beginnings has turned into an organized group of individuals and groups from within the community, led each year by designated individuals. Jackie Rowe and Carla Weiskoph were the gardeners “in charge” this year.

While Carla is finishing up her first year in the garden, veteran gardener Jackie already regards her as an excellent resource for the other workers. Carla explained it was a combination of fate and a love of gardening that brought her here. “I have always enjoyed having my hands in the earth,” she said. During our conversation she often turned to direct other gardeners about what to harvest.

Judge Johnson estimates that the garden has donated about 25,000 pounds of produce to Manna Food Project over the last decade. Their large harvest is impressive, and the importance of what they provide to the community is never forgotten. “The fresh stuff is where it really counts,” Carla said.

It’s also a great opportunity to get back to nature and to meet new people. “I encourage anyone who’s got some land and some water to plant a garden,” Jackie adds.

The end of the season is usually sometime in late September or early October. The garden is open for anyone to come, learn, and make a difference.

Manna Food Project sincerely thanks the Petoskey United Methodist Church and all garden volunteers for their generous donations over the past 10 years, and we look forward to continuing our partnership to feed the hungry.

Jessyca Stoepker | September 2018