By Emily Ford
SALISBURY — The West End Community Garden is up and growing again, thanks to The Refuge church and Salisbury Parks and Recreation Department.
So far this summer, the garden on Brenner Avenue has produced more than 300 pounds of fruit and vegetables, all donated to Rowan Helping Ministries, Main Street Mission and a free farmers market at the Miller Recreation Center.
And there’s more where that came from, say organizers who are growing everything from purple cauliflower and peppers to blueberries and beets.
“It’s great for the community and for the church, and it’s fun for us,” said Karen Boehner, a church volunteer who has helped re-establish the garden.
The garden recently won a $3,000 grant from Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina through Nourishing North Carolina, a statewide community garden effort to make local, healthy food more accessible to people across the state.
The grant enabled the group to expand the garden and provide more fresh, local produce for more people in the community, plus encourage healthy eating habits, said Jeff Holshouser with Parks and Recreation.
“We are proud to be part of the Nourishing North Carolina network,” he said. “Our garden not only provides healthy food, it also provides a safe area for our neighbors to work together, share a public green space and be physically active through gardening.”
Church members Stephanie Petrunich and Julie Henning spread fresh soil throughout the garden Thursday morning.
“I’ve always had a small garden and loved working in the yard, so I just thought this would be a good way to get to do it for the Lord,” Petrunich said. “I love their idea to give all the produce to the poor.
“I haven’t been able to physically go with them to give away the food, but I’ve heard about it and just how blessed the people are.”
Jessica Hackworth, 13 and Emma Lotz, 8, said working in the garden this summer has taken them outside their comfort zones.
“It’s been hot, but very fun,” Hackworth said. “It’s really cool to be able to actually get outside because most of the time kids our age stay at home and get on the computer.”
Godley’s Garden Center donated seeds and other gardening materials to get the project off the ground, or into the ground as the case may be.
The Refuge, based out of Concord, moved into the old Sacred Heart Catholic Church on North Fulton Street this spring. The church sees the garden as part of the its mission to give back to the community, Pastor Justin Porter told City Council Tuesday.
“We are looking for ways to meet the practical needs of the community,” Porter said.
The church also gives away bread every Sunday afternoon and hands out free water in downtown Salisbury.
One of the reasons “Salisbury is special is because we have churches willing to step outside their congregations and help,” Mayor Pro Tem Susan Kluttz said.
Not only is the church providing food, it is providing healthy food, Kluttz said.
“We know we have people in this community who are hungry,” she said.
Volunteers have re-established raised beds and a butterfly garden. They are developing an unused area of the lot into vegetable gardens and also plan to plant a fall garden, Boehner said.
The garden has become a bonding spot, allowing church members to get to know each other outside the walls of The Refuge.
Boehner said several people gather a couple times a week to take in coffee before heading out to work in the garden.
“My husband and I have farmed our whole lives so gardening isn’t unusual, but it’s a lot more fun when you do it with friends,” she said.
The West End Community Garden was established in 1998 by the Master Gardeners. Cooperative Extension is now working with the city and church to help bring the garden back to life.
Eventually, organizers want to distribute produce in the West End community and find more volunteers and grants to grow the garden project.
“We hope to inspire others to do the same thing,” Boehner said.
By 2014, Nourishing North Carolina is expected to provide North Carolina communities with 190,000 pounds of produce, which will enhance the nutritional value of nearly 150,000 meals.
In its first year, the program donated more than two tons of produce to food shelter and rescue organizations across the state.
Reporter Sarah Campbell contributed to this story.
Contact reporter Emily Ford at 704-797-4264.