St. Luke's church garden provides fresh produce for the needy
For many, gardening is a hobby that occasionally puts some fresh vegetables in the night's salad.
For St. Luke's Episcopal Church in Bethesda, though, gardening has become a way to spread the congregation's ministry and feed some hungry mouths.
Launched in late 2008, the Luke's Organic Vegetable Enterprise, or L.O.V.E., as church members call it —a 1,000-square-foot garden at the church on Grosvenor Lane —has become a bustling patch full of radishes, lettuce, beans and a half dozen other crops. After the vegetables are picked, they are donated to organizations across the county, including the Bethesda Men's Shelter, Community Base Shelter in Rockville and St. Luke's House in Bethesda.
"At first it was How do we become a more sustainable congregation'," said Rev. Stephanie Nagley. "But then it became a way to connect to people who otherwise we might not have."
Congregation members planted the crops late last year, according to parishioner Maggie Pearson. The garden is tended by more than 20 members of the church, plus Montgomery County Public School students looking for community service hours and students from Identity, a county nonprofit that provides positive programs for Latino youth.
After the crops are harvested, they are divvied up and sent to the shelters and homes, where they are used for meals or educational purposes.
Elaine Byergo, who runs the life skills program at St. Luke's House, a residential mental health services organization that is not affiliated with the church, said the vegetables are used by residents in their cooking classes.
"We'll take the green beans and put them in a salad, teach the residents about healthy eating," she said. "They were skeptical at first about making zucchini bread, but when we added some cranberries they were all for it."
The garden cost about $1,000 to build, Pearson said, but those costs were covered by donations from a slew of area home and garden centers and a grant from the TKF Foundation, an Annapolis-based group that funds green space projects.
A committee met and mulled over what veggies might fit the sunny, slightly-sloped lot the best and decided on a variety of them. On Monday, nearly-ripe tomatoes filled the vines and a few cucumbers dotted a fence. Lettuce, radishes and squash had already been picked, and a few varieties of peppers were ready for the plucking.
Nagley said the garden has served not only the outside community, but also the one within her church.
"It's really an intergenerational kind of experience," she said. "The older people teach the younger people about gardening, and the younger people make the older people feel young again."
It's an interspecies kind of thing as well, Nagley joked.
"Everyone is welcome at St. Luke's," she said, recalling a time she found a squirrel in the garden. "If they want to eat a little lettuce, that's OK.