United efforts lead to remarkable revival of West Point’s community garden

Published 10:00 am Saturday, June 24, 2023

Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...

WEST POINT — Approximately 15 years ago, members of the First Baptist Church of West Point and local volunteers started a community garden. It was located across West 8th Avenue from the church with the garden’s vegetables going to those in need. For a number of years, Jack Combs headed up the garden effort. When he died, wife Linda and other volunteers kept it going.

The garden languished during the Covid shutdown in 2020 and not much has taken place there since.

Things are different in 2023. The garden is right now looking better than it ever has with seven-foot-tall corn and ready-to-pick tomatoes, squash and beans.

Email newsletter signup

The turnaround from what the garden has looked like for the past three years is remarkable.

What caused it? A cooperative effort on the part of Restoration Ministries of West Point and the and West Point First Baptist. Nothing is going to waste.

Working with Lesley Lowe Weiss of the Society of St. Andrew, volunteers with Restoration Ministries have been gathering fresh produce and taking it to senior centers in West Point and Lanett.

Weiss explains that the Society of St. Andrew is a nonprofit organization in multiple states that’s dedicated to ending both hunger and food waste.

“It’s estimated that 40 percent of all food in America goes to waste,” Weiss said. “It’s enough to fill a large football stadium every day. At the same time, some 34 million people in our country are food insecure.”

The Society of St. Andrew has a motto: “Gleaning America’s Fields; Feeding America’s Hungry.”

It began in a church but is non-denominational. Weiss is the gleaning coordinator for the east Alabama region.

When word got around this past winter that an effort was going to be made to restart the Eighth Avenue Community Garden, help started coming in from all over. Some rich dirt was donated to spread over the garden spot. The Fuller Center’s ReUse Store donated 3,000 packets of seeds and Jenny Jack Farm in Pine Mountain donated 280 plants. Members of First Baptist along with members of Restoration Ministries worked the garden on a regular basis. An ample amount of rainfall during the spring really helped the garden turn out the way it has.

Apostle Bruce Gunn is the pastor of Restoration Ministries, which is located at 818 Third Avenue in West Point. Apostle Gunn and wife Vicky have been very active in this effort. Others from the church helping them include Jennifer Little, Barbara Cullwell, Pastor Thelma Reed, Minister Patricia Banks, Darish Cochran, Jeane Barber and Deacon Bonner Burton.

Members of First Baptist continue to use plots that have been in the garden for some time. They have been very productive so far this year, and the summer season is just beginning. This far in 2023, more than 100 pounds of produce has been gleaned from the garden and taken to senior centers.

“It’s so good to see this garden brought back to life,” said Linda Combs. “There has been some work invested in it, and we are now seeing the fruits of that labor.”

The Society of St. Andrew can be contacted at endanger.org and at eastal@endhunger.org.

It’s estimated that 40 million Americans sometimes go hungry. This includes women, children, the unemployed, the working poor, seniors and those who are homeless.

This is happening at a time when there is plenty of food in the country to feed everyone. The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates that 25 percent of the food grown in the U.S. is never made available for people to eat. Much of it is left in fields after harvest. Much more is deemed unmarketable because it’s not pretty enough. Much of this is plowed in at landfills, where it produces harmful greenhouse gases. The good stuff that makes it to restaurants and grocery stores gets wasted, too. More than 130 billion pounds of it is thrown away every year.

There is no shortage of food. There’s enough for everyone. The need is to get that food to hungry people.

Organizations such as St. Andrew are trying to bridge this gap. Since 1979, the Society of St. Andrew has saved and distributed between 25 and 30 million pounds of fresh produce every year by coordinating resources that already exist.

Farmers and packing houses with excess food contact St. Andrew when food is ready to be harvested and hauled away in tractor trailers. St. Andrew volunteers go into fields and orchards gathering the food and packing it for delivery. Feeding agencies pick up the food, or it’s delivered directly to food pantries and used for prepared meals in soup kitchens,

People can help this effort by donating to St. Andrew, volunteering in work projects and telling others about the work being done.