There are moments that call for grand gestures, dynamic speeches and dramatic decrees — suggesting that a garden be placed in the backyard of a church is not one of them.
But it was this close.
Joanna Jones’ husband had recently watched a TED talk about guerilla gardens in Los Angeles, patches of green life distributed haphazardly along curbs and abandoned lots in an otherwise urban landscape.
The Joneses are parishioners at Mount Nittany United Methodist Church, which is on a stretch of land on East Branch Road that is decidedly less congested that the average LA street corner.
It didn’t take them long to realize that the church’s rolling rural appeal had practical applications as well — most importantly the potential to re-create the TED talk’s urban gardens on a slightly larger scale.
First there was the small matter of getting permission.
When they arranged a meeting with Pastor Ed Preston, Joanna Jones said that she was prepared to give an impassioned argument filled with well-reasoned rhetoric and solid logic, but her big moment never arrived.
It took Preston all of 90 seconds to say yes.
“It seemed like a no-brainer to me. We have all this property,” Preston said.
In its first season alone, the Mount Nittany United Methodist Church Giving Garden has generated 971 pounds of food, a salad bar’s worth of produce that has found its way to the doors of organizations such as the State College Food Bank, the Centre County Women’s Resource Center and The Mommy Shoppe.
“The whole project came together really fast,” Jones said.
It helps to have a deep roster of ready volunteers.
The church’s youth group spread 11 cubic acres of mulch, and for some it was the first lesson in what might as well have been an intro to master gardening course.
Theresa Brock relied on the expertise of her fellow volunteers while slowly developing a green thumb of her very own.
“It was fairly simple from our perspective because the people we were working with knew so much,” Brock said.
Members of the congregation donated a variety of seed plants that quickly began to resemble every growing boy’s worst nightmare — broccoli, cauliflower and zucchini all coexisting in one 1,000-square-foot plot of land.
Carl Cornell, another novice gardener on his first tour of duty, was impressed by how quickly nature can get its act together.
“You plant the things and then like a week later we have all this stuff,” Cornell said.
Volunteers spend roughly four hours per week pulling weeds, picking produce and making deliveries.
Up to 80 percent of the garden’s output is sent outside of the church. So far this season, they’ve already generated enough food to make 20 deliveries to different food pantries and to seniors with low mobility around Centre County.
Leftovers — and there are always leftovers — are offered to neighbors or anyone else with a pang for some quality Swiss chard.
“If you want the food or need the food we’re prepared to give it to you,” Jones said.
For now, both Jones and the church are content with the size of the garden and have no plans to expand its parameters. Instead, their focus is on sharing what they’ve accomplished with other churches throughout the area.
A smaller demonstration garden was established earlier this year in a single parking space outside the building. Aside from being an extra source of beans and cucumbers, the lone patch of green life is meant to inspire other churches that may be working with a much smaller backyard.
For Jones, the Giving Garden is proof that food insufficiency is a solvable problem.
“If we can put a man on the moon, we can feed each other,” Jones said.