After the harvest
The ministry of Trinity Community Gardens includes growing produce, gleaning fields and community education.
By Meggan Manlove
The members of Trinity Lutheran Church in Nampa, Idaho, are living witnesses of the good news that is painted on the wall above the congregation’s kitchen: “I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry” (John 6:35).
The need for food distribution and assistance in southwest Idaho’s Treasure Valley area and elsewhere in Idaho has been pretty clear. The unemployment rate for the county in which Trinity is located is about 7.5 percent; the poverty rate is 20 percent. In Nampa School District, 57 percent of the students qualify for free lunches. Statewide in 2013, the Idaho Food Bank served an average of 106,586 people per month and a total of 10,670,417 meals (12,804,501 pounds of food) for the year.
Responding to this need, the members of Trinity founded Trinity Community Garden in the spring of 2008. The original plot was planted in the congregation’s backyard. Soon the ministry expanded to additional garden plots on properties of the congregation’s members and then grew to gleaning the fields of local commercial vegetable gardens.
What do you do with squash?
Southwest Idaho’s high desert climate, combined with plenty of irrigation, lends itself to good growing conditions for both commercial vegetable farmers and community gardens.
As a result, area food banks and food pantries have been receiving increasing quantities of fresh produce to give to low-income individuals and families. There is now a population of food pantry clients in southwest Idaho who regularly receive produce, such as cabbage, corn and squash.
But clients don’t always know how to prepare the produce they receive and have a need to preserve vegetables and fruit for use during the non-growing months.
Trinity’s community garden ministry wanted to help make it possible for families of all incomes to eat nutritious produce throughout the year and also to provide recipes for tasty and healthy meals made with produce grown close to home.
Growing something new with an ELCA Domestic Hunger Grant
The motivation to offer education came a few years ago when Trinity hosted the University of Idaho Extension’s Idaho Victory Garden course and junior master gardener day camp. Soon after that, the garden’s founder, an advanced master gardener, began teaching “How to garden the Trinity Community Gardens way.”
With the help of funding from an ELCA Domestic Hunger Grant, Trinity’s hunger ministry began offering education opportunities on food preparation and preservation. Congregation members have been going through the University of Idaho Extension’s training process to become certified food safety advisors — also called master food preservers.
“Almost everything I had learned about canning from my mom and grandma was thrown out the window,” said 34-year-old Amanda Hanson, one of the newly trained advisors. “In seven weeks I learned everything from canning green beans to dehydrating strawberries. Now I feel more confident that I can preserve food safely and confidently. I am excited to share what I have learned with others and teach our food preservation classes this fall.”
Sharing skills, recipes and the gospel
This past summer, Trinity hosted a three-session, hands-on workshop on food preservation taught by the advisors and a county extension educator.
At the same time, simple recipes such as summer squash gratin, corn salad and turnip fries were being collected for a cookbook. Each recipe had to have six or fewer ingredients and feature produce as the central component of the dish.
The new cookbook incorporates information collected for the county’s Eat Smart Idaho effort, a nutrition program for low-income individuals and families. It includes preservation instructions, nutrition facts, pictures to help identify varieties of produce (like different kinds of squash) and several recipes.
Trinity Community Gardens’ reach and impact continues to grow well beyond the bountiful garden plots and putting beautiful, healthy produce into the hands of people. Their volunteers are teaching people new skills, healthy practices and self-sufficiency.
Trinity’s ministry and community garden is as much about relieving hunger as it is about growing faith and hope.
Meggan Manlove is pastor at Trinity Lutheran Church in Nampa, Idaho.