In the village of New Era, Mich., with a population of only about 400 people, New Era Christian Reformed Church has hosted a community garden and farmers’ market going on five summers strong.
In the spring, as weather permits, a crew plants 14 raised beds. By July and August, the garden not only supplies vegetables but a scene of natural green beauty as well. A local garden center donates flats of plants; all tools, plants, and seeds are supplied. Currently six families are garden members and another six volunteer. The crew enjoys several networking potlucks over the summer.
If beds aren't rented, church volunteers plant them as community beds. Sandra Whitaker, the community garden coordinator said it’s not meant as a money maker. “We are merely trying to serve the needs of our community and grow our church.” Produce is shared.
“We have been blessed to receive private donations and grant funding to grow our community garden,” Whitaker said. “If we are blessed with an abundance of veggies, they are donated to either Love, In the name of Christ in Shelby or other distribution points.” Other means of sharing include placing extra produce on the church steps on Sunday mornings for church members and garden members to help themselves.
Once the community garden was well established, the church began to host a farmers’ market in 2016. Twice a month the market runs from 4-7 p.m on Tuesdays as a way of reaching out to the community. Free live entertainment attracts market goers, and vendors offer low-cost dinner options as well as garden produce. Senior citizens who participate in a government assistance program receive tokens redeemable for fresh produce from the garden. This program, supported by grants from the NW Michigan Chronic Disease Coalition in partnership with District Health Department #10 and Mercy Health Sister Simone Courtade Fund, supplied each eligible senior with $4 worth of produce per visit in 2017, according to Whitaker.
In 2018 the garden yielded just over 100 lbs of produce, Whitaker said.