Volunteers Nancy Hopkins and Bernice Zeist work on planting kale at God's Acre comminity garden near the Bally Mennonite Church. Last year the church grew and donated 750 pounds of produce for area food banks.
Gardening is one of the most popular pastimes in America. It offers people a chance to engage with nature, cultivate new life and enjoy some physical activity. It's an activity that speaks to the agricultural heritage of our region. And now, across the Upper Perk Valley, green thumbs are also cultivating goodwill.
God's Acre, at the Bally Mennonite Church on Route 100, for example, provides space for community garden plots, as well as a common area garden where volunteers grow produce and flowers for The Open Link. Last year, volunteers donated about 550 pounds of food to The Open Link and an additional 200 pounds to the Second Harvest food bank, according to dedicated volunteer Nancy Hopkins.
God's Acre was started in 2009 and now boasts about 15 community plots where people grow vegetables for their own consumption, a butterfly garden, a water garden and a strawberry patch – and there is room to grow. Hopkins said garden volunteers are hoping to expand their perennial crops in coming seasons.
According to Hopkins, a core group of about six church members take responsibility for much of the garden maintenance, but other church and community members sign up to commit some of their time each season.
"It's a community garden and it really does build community," Hopkins said. "You don't have to be a part of the church. We welcome anyone who wants to help."
Hopkins said the garden is always open, so community members looking for some respite from the daily grind can enjoy the serenity of natural surroundings. There is information about the garden and volunteering available on-site. Information can also be found online at http://godsacrebmc.wordpress.com/ or by calling Hopkins at 484-241-7986.
Meanwhile, over at the Upper Perk Community Life Center, 104 Main St. in East Greenville, the Girl Scouts from Junior Troop 72380 are digging in.
"The girls wanted to do a project to benefit The Open Link," and after talking about potential ideas, the concept of a garden took hold, troop leader Doren Thompson said.
Thompson talked about the idea with Community Life Center Executive Director Pastor Scott Roth, who was interested in creating a community garden and offered up the space at the center.
The girls were involved in all aspects of setting up the garden, from cleaning up debris in the area, removing gravel and leveling the ground surface, to the actual construction of the four 5'x3' raised beds and signage.
The girls first planted carrots about three weeks ago, and just recently, Thompson said she was able to see the first sprouts coming out of the ground. "I was like a kid in a candy store," Thompson said about her reaction to seeing the sprouts for the first time.
Last week the girls planted cucumber and zucchini seeds, and tomato and pepper plants are already sprouting at Thompson's house, ready for planting when the weather gets warmer.
All produce grown at the garden will be donated to The Open Link.
Each week, two of the girls will be responsible for garden maintenance. Although the girls' families likely will become more involved as the harvest season approaches, Thompson said she stressed the importance of the girls taking ownership of the project.
"That's what Girl Scouting is all about: Young girls becoming leaders," Thompson said. "First they learn to lead in small ways, and that leads to big ways."
The project will allow 13 of the girls to earn the Bronze Award – the highest honor a Girl Scout Junior can receive. "I have an amazing group of girls. They get along really well and look out for each other. It's fun to see that," Thompson said about her troop.
In future years, Thompson said the troop will continue to maintain the gardens but will also invite the community in to help. "Hopefully in the future, we'll be able to bring in community members to help out, for example, other children who want to learn how to garden."