The Ridglea ministry inspired by TCU students lets people rent a plot of land and join in on the fellowship and harvest.
by Shirley Jinkins Photography by Leo Wesson
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by Shirley Jinkins
Photography by Leo Wesson
Ridglea Christian Church settled in west Fort Worth more than 60 years ago, but as the surrounding neighborhood aged, unused buildings on the church’s back lot deteriorated and a growing homeless population took refuge.
With church grounds in danger of going to seed, church leaders decided to apply for a competitive grant from the Tarrant Area Food Bank in 2014 to convert the space into a community garden.
“We have a lot of TCU students who have attended [the church] here, and they got to talking about hunger, so we started our gardens,” said Allison Lanza, minister of outreach and operations at the 300-member church on a corner of Elizabeth Lane.
Community gardens represent one of the most visible and hands-on ways for organizations and individuals to address food insecurity. The church’s Learning Garden is one of 43 community gardens in the food bank’s network.
Ridglea’s Learning Garden includes the Jubilee Garden, a 31-plot community space where people who live in the neighborhood can rent a plot for $30 a year to grow their own vegetables.
Neighborhood gardeners must work their garden plots for at least an hour on Thursday nights, tending the plants and harvesting the vegetables, fruits, nuts and herbs.
The community garden produces about 200 pounds of food a week, said Micheline Hynes, nutrition services manager at the food bank. “We can offer consultation and support for those trying to start their own community gardens.”
In addition to providing access to fresh produce, the Learning Garden is a laboratory of possibilities for people interested in starting their own backyard garden, including examples of compost areas, arbors, a brick-lined herb garden, rock gardens, spiral gardens and raised-bed gardens with a drip-bucket irrigation system.
Mission groups and others volunteer their services. Neighborhood residents feed food scraps to the compost piles, and some people just walk around and pull weeds. The church also partners with nearby schools for class projects conducted in the gardens and “pick your own” harvest days.
An unused room in the church has been transformed into a seed room, with greenhouse lights and a seed library that other community gardens can use. Plastic tubs hold worms in composting. There is a library shelf of gardening books.
The garden also offers a peaceful place to hang out and build a sense of community. “We have homeless people, wealthy people, apartment dwellers,” Lanza said. “It has become a safe place for everybody. We didn’t foresee it would do that, [but] when people plant seeds, it doesn’t matter who they are.”
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