Fruits of their labor
The enterprise that brings Robert and Jolene Flowers to their Norman house of worship on Saturday mornings is no garden-variety project.
The couple and others from Generations Church are on a special mission to supply members of the community-at-large with free fresh fruits and vegetables.
The garden cultivated by the church, 1433 W Boyd, includes 24 raised plant beds where church members regularly harvest their bounty — including eggplant, okra, tomatoes, squash, peppers and sweet potatoes.
For four years, the church has grown and offered these edible blessings to anyone who wants them. And people like Betty Enox of Norman and Linda Pendley of Noble have eagerly sought out these fruits of their labor.
"It just helped us through a really rough time," Pendley said, referring to last summer when the garden's produce enhanced her family's meals.
Other metro-area churches and faith-based agencies offer the same bounty. Del City Church of Christ has cultivated a community garden for eight years, while the faith-based homeless shelter City Rescue Mission is harvesting treasures from its community garden begun about a year ago.
"It's a ministry. We're trying to be the example that Christ asked us to be," said Melvin Thompson, the retired businessman who serves as the Del City church's master gardener.
The Rev. Dustin Sells, senior pastor of Norman's Generations Church, expressed similar thoughts. He said Jesus talked about the importance of reaching out to those in need in Scripture, including Matthew 25:35-40, which says, in part, "For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink. ..."
"We're just trying to identify with Him and the people He cares about," Sells said.
Generations Church, a Nazarene congregation, decided to use their property adjacent to their church building to give back to the Norman-area community. Sells said a group of dedicated church members meets to gather herbs, fruits and vegetables growing in the garden about 30 minutes before they keep their standing appointment to give the items away to anyone who wants it.
Sells said people learned about the community garden mostly through word of mouth and the church also posts information about it on Facebook and Craigslist. He said the Department of Human Services also has shared the church's information with families seeking free produce in their area.
The Flowers found their way to the church after hearing about the garden. Robert Flowers said one of his friends who lived in Colorado started a community garden and the idea intrigued him. Currently, he and his wife are among the church members who regularly fan out into the garden to gather produce for the community. Jolene Flowers takes some of the herbs home and makes pesto with it. The couple freezes the pesto and offers it to people in small pouches, along with bags of pasta.
Meanwhile, Enox said she frequently visits the table full of produce that church members set up on the outskirts of the garden.
"They're so friendly and the vegetables are wonderful," she said. "Their generosity is overwhelming."
Sells said it's important to note that the garden is simply a way to help the community and not a "bait and switch" to get people to attend the church.
"We just really want to help people. If they ask for prayer, of course, we will pray for them, but we just want them to know we are here for them," he said.
Thompson at Del City Church of Christ said the community garden is an established part of the church that has become very popular with the community.
He said the "roadside stand" type of distribution offered on two days a week at the church, 1901 Vickie Dr., regularly draws crowds.
"It's a vital part of the community. It's like Grand Central Station out here," he said.
That positive response is part of what Thompson likes about the garden. He said the church will keep the garden going as long as it is producing and the public continues to come for the produce.
All the produce — onions, leeks, watermelon, pumpkin, cantaloupe, butternut squash, tomatoes, cucumbers, radishes, cabbage, collard greens, kale, carrots and a variety of peppers — are grown on the church's property which includes two areas given to the church by adjacent Del City High School.
Thompson said he estimates that the church distributes about 750 pounds or more of produce during each distribution. He said just Tuesday, the church gave out 42 bags filled with 2 1/2 pounds of okra.
"This year, it will exceed 20,000 pounds. That's a lot of vegetables," Thompson said. "We hope to make it better every year."
A therapeutic endeavor
At City Rescue Mission, Tonya Keys carefully examines the colorful zinnias growing in the shelter's community garden. She proudly shows off a small watermelon found growing in one of the garden's 16 raised plant beds.
Keys said she started working in the garden while she was participating in the Bridges to Life addiction recovery program. Now a graduate of the program who has found work outside the shelter, Keys still finds time to tend to the garden, located on shelter property near the corner of California and Shartel avenues — east of the shelter's main building at 800 W California Ave.
"I love being outside and they were looking for another (garden) supervisor. I knew it was for a good cause," she said.
During a recent visit to the garden, Keys pointed out zinnias, squash, lavender, basil and peppermint. She said the garden also has produced potatoes, carrots and peppers, and the shelter's vice president Adam Jones said fruit trees were planted on the outer edges of the designated garden space.
Jones said the garden was started in spring 2017 as a way to teach shelter clients gardening skills that help prepare them for self-sufficiency.
"They may not become gardeners when they leave but if they ever become food insecure, they will have this extra skill that they can use," he said.
Jones said many of the clients have found gardening to be therapeutic, plus it takes them outdoors. He said mothers and children have enjoyed gardening together and Keys said some of the older women have also responded well to the gardening project.
Keys said their fondness for the garden didn't come as a surprise.
"I have loved it. I had flower beds at my house, so I was very interested in it," she said. "If ever times are hard, I would have the knowledge to do this and it's also therapy for me."
Free and fresh
• Generations Church offers fresh produce to the community at 8 a.m. Saturday at 1433 W Boyd in Norman. The church accepts produce donations from other gardeners who also want to distribute their harvest. For more information and updates, go to the church's Facebook page.
• Del City Church of Christ hosts its roadside stand produce distribution beginning at 7 a.m. Tuesday and Friday. For more information, visit the "ministries" link on the church's website at www.delcitychurch.org.