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story.lead_photo.caption Charlotte Renner/For the News TribuneThe Ramsey Garden, located at Quinn African Methodist Episcopal Church, is named after the first families to join the church in the 1850s. The goal for the new community garden is to fight food insecurity and food deserts in Jefferson City.

Driving down U.S. 50, Lori Simms’ eye was drawn to tall corn sprouting out of a community garden beside a church. Inspired, she thought, “We can do this. We have the space.”

Seven years later, her inspiration grew into Ramsey Garden.

“This winter, I got to thinking, ‘You just gotta start somewhere,’” Simms said. “I didn’t know anything about gardening before.”

Ramsey Garden is located at Quinn Chapel African Methodist Episcopal Church, where Simms is on the board of trustees. The garden is named for one of the first families to join Quinn Chapel in the 1850s, the Ramseys. The goal for this new community garden is to fight food insecurity and food deserts in Jefferson City.

People who live more than a mile from the nearest grocery store are living in a food desert. This is a form of food insecurity, or not being able to consistently have access to healthy food.

Using the USDA’s Food Access Research Atlas, Simms found 9,751 people in Jefferson City live in food deserts. These same areas are also classified as “low income,” meaning the area has a poverty rate of 20 percent or higher.

“I looked at the areas around (the church) who could benefit from something like the garden,” Simms said. “This is such a layered issue, and there’s no way we can solve it. But we can help.”

Simms explained people living in these areas might not own cars or have access to transportation, making the trip to a grocery store even more difficult and blocking a healthy lifestyle even more.

Quinn Chapel Pastor Anthony McPherson said many people living in food deserts turn to fast food options that are closer to their homes instead.

“It’s more realistic for them to walk over to the local fast food store and grab something that’s high in sodium, high in cholesterol, that’s not going to be of good sustenance for them,” McPherson said. “This is something that plagues many communities throughout our country.”

For Simms, this issue demanded the community garden she’d dreamed of creating.

“If we can start to grow this garden to the point where during growing season we have a farmer’s market, people can walk here and pick up some fresh fruits,” Simms said. “Then we can help. That’s awesome.”

The garden currently consists of four raised garden boxes containing spinach, lettuce, herbs, strawberries and tomatoes. They also planted marigolds to attract bees to pollinate the garden.

Though it’s not a huge project now, Simms plans for the garden to take up the whole yard beside the church. She and McPherson hope community members can one day come and start their own plots to grow food for themselves.

“I’m truly looking forward to that garden bearing fruit, not just in terms of the vegetables that we grow but the relationships that will be nurtured and established in this garden,” McPherson said. “So not only is our church open to all, but the garden is open to all as well.”

Quinn Chapel named the garden after the Ramsey family to bring things “full circle,” Simms said. In the 1850s, Elijah and Violet Ramsey bought their freedom from slavery and became one of the original families of Quinn Chapel. Their son, also named Elijah, bought some land and deeded it to the church.

“I thought that it was fitting to name some of the church land after them and to bring them back in,” Simms said. “I like to say we stand on the shoulders of our ancestors. That’s one way to remember them.”

Ramsey Garden is located behind Quinn Chapel at 415 Lafayette St. in Jefferson City. The garden will be blessed Sunday by Pastor McPherson. All are welcome to attend the short service, and donations to the garden are appreciated.

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