A garden that gives back
The garden at St. Andrew Lutheran Church.
When Mark Trinklein first started attending St. Andrew Lutheran Church, an ELCA congregation in Racine, Wis., he saw something special in the congregation’s sprawling lawn.
“It was an onion farm, and then the church bought the land,” Mark shares. The congregation used the two acres as a yard, but Mark envisioned something different. “It was wonderful soil. I told them we should put up a garden.”
Mark started with just a small portion of the yard — about an eighth of an acre. He planted perennials like raspberries and asparagus. Then over time the garden gradually expanded to take up the entire two acres. It has grown to include an orchard that includes 27 fruit-bearing trees including apples, pears, peaches and plums.
“Everything that we can grow in this area we grow,” Mark says.
The crops harvested from the garden are used to serve the community. One third of the produce goes to a local food pantry, another third goes to needy families and then the rest is sold at St. Andrew’s farmers market — a local attraction for many people in the area.
“It has become a north side destination for people who usually have to go way west or way south to get to a farmers market,” Mark shares. “We have music, coffee, a soup of the day. People can come and taste and chat.”
In addition to the fresh fruits and vegetables, Mark makes and sells jams, jellies and canned goods. A women’s group at St. Andrew also makes and sells bakery items.
The proceeds from the farmers market help make ends meet at St. Andrew. For instance, when the congregation couldn’t afford to put in a new, much-needed gas line, money from the farmers market was able to pay for it. Next the market will help pay for a new sign for the congregation.
The garden has also become a place for people from across the Racine area to come and give of their time. Volunteers from other congregations that don’t have space or time for garden projects come to St. Andrew to help out.
Mark has also been able to employ community members who might otherwise not be able to find a job — like Charles Pfost who was having trouble finding work because of his criminal record.
“I had just gotten out of prison after 16 years and getting a job was a beast,” Charles says.
He says there were a lot of volunteer programs available to help former inmates build work experience but not a lot of people willing to hire him. Now Charles works part-time in the garden.
“Mark gave me a call and I went out there,” Charles says. “It’s a huge garden. I’ve worked in construction and with marble and tile and granite; that’s easy compared to working in a garden.”
Having the part-time work for just a few hours a day has also helped Charles make the transition from prison life to work. “If I had a straight eight-hour day I don’t know if I could handle it yet,” he says.
Mark’s experience with the garden has helped him see just what can happen when people come together. “From a small seed many things can grow,” he says. “Racine is a community that has a lot of problems; we’re always glad when we can do something positive.
“It isn’t just about the corn and the beans and the flowers,” he continues, “but the growing of people and the growing of their faith and growing to know each other.”