Common Ground garden aims to draw in neighborhood

Julie Harker, above, teaches Avah Hargis, who lives nearby, about some of the fresh herbs in the garden as she and Ray Evans volunteer at the Common Ground Garden at the Common Ground Community Building on Clark and East Atchison streets in Jefferson City. Several volunteers from Grace Episcopal Church in Jefferson City help maintain the garden at the communtiy building.

Julie Harker, above, teaches Avah Hargis, who lives nearby, about some of the fresh herbs in the garden as she and Ray Evans volunteer at the Common Ground Garden at the Common Ground Community Building on Clark and East Atchison streets in Jefferson City. Several volunteers from Grace Episcopal Church in Jefferson City help maintain the garden at the communtiy building. Photo by Deborah Cote.

Putting their personal interest into ministry, master gardeners have created community through gardening at the Common Ground Community Center.

A little more than a year after the Old Town Revitalization Company project opened in Jefferson City, the outdoor cooperative project is just what organizers had hoped.

The center is supported by five downtown churches. Funds help provide limited crisis assistance to families in need. But the key is church members bringing their gifts and skills.

Eight volunteers from Grace Episcopal Church share a watering and maintenance rotation for the six raised beds beside the newly renovated, two-story brick building.

“Our goal is for it to become more of a neighborhood affair,” said coordinator Virginia Irvin.

What produce has come from this first-year garden has been set under the shade tree for neighbors to take home. In the future, volunteers would like to generate enough produce to supplement local food pantries.

“We invite people to come plant with us,” Irvin said.

The lettuce was a big hit. However, most visitors to the garden have been hesitant to get their hand in it to pick things, she said.

As familiarity with the garden, the produce and the people grows, volunteers hope so will the enjoyment and involvement from the neighborhood.

Looking ahead, a sensory garden is expected to be installed in the garden area and a Boy Scout may build a walking trail connecting the gardens to the main entrance.

Food fits in nicely with the churches’ goals.

“I think of all the occasions Jesus was involved with somebody; often food was involved — after his resurrection, on the beach, his first miracle,” said church member and master gardener Ray Evans.

Other activities church members have

organized at the community center include a fair trade store, a lending library for children’s books, sewing classes, financial mentoring and a self-confidence program for girls.

As more church volunteers have joined the center’s mission, it has expanded its hours to be open 9 a.m.-noon Tuesday through Friday, when the volunteer social workers meet with clients.

A new program will be one-on-one follow-up with people who have been served by the center, said Director Kristen Hilty.

“Our goal all along was to develop relationships with people instead of meeting them briefly and sending them on their way,” Hilty said.

The center’s programs have developed quickly, she said.

“It does feel in a short amount of time, we’ve quickly hit our stride,” Hilty said. “We have a place here and the churches are vested in it.”

Even HALO (Helping Art Liberate Orphans), which occupies most of the second floor, has experienced rapid growth, recently adding a full-time director.

In the last six months, Hilty has been pleased with the partnership built with the public health department.

“I feel like after a year, we know who we are now,” Hilty said. “We focus on the whole person — spiritual, emotional, physical, mental. And programs like the garden fit well.”

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