Planting a piece of home

Most Greenville Avenue passersby don’t notice churchgoers and refugees tending to fresh herbs and vegetables at The Episcopal Church of Ascension’s community garden. They don’t see the preschoolers inspect lettuce or the Rev. Paul Klitzke’s 120-pound dog, Dwayne, meander through mulch walkways. Minus the occasional reprimand, the unofficial church mascot knows not to step on the asparagus, cabbage and peas.

“My favorite times are when we’re all out there together and really learn from each other,” garden leader Diane Haack says. “We have some really amazing, knowledgeable gardeners.”

But even Haack was perplexed when she saw fresh produce on a picnic table for the first time almost a decade ago.

“I was just thrilled,” she says. “I didn’t know there was a garden out there.” 

Haack oversees 21 garden beds outlined with stone. Neighbors rent each bed for $70 per year, but Haack makes exceptions for families who can’t afford it. 

Refugees from countries such as Sudan, Uganda and Myanmar use the plots to grow vegetables that they can’t buy at grocery stores. Some grow okra until it’s the size of a squash and use it to create flour.

“They can have traditional foods that they wouldn’t have otherwise,” Klitzke says.

Two of the garden beds grow vegetables that are donated to the food pantry, which is open the first and third Tuesday of every month and serves 18 to 25 people. More than 500 pounds of produce were given to the food pantry in 2018. 

“What’s exciting, too, for us is we’re going to be able to expand the food pantry and serve more people,” Mother Marci Pounders says. “They can come, have a cup of coffee and not feel like they’re doing something below their dignity level.”