By JOHN KIENER
“Have you ever eaten a purple tomato or used pea-sized tomatoes on a salad? If not, a talk with Rev. Daniel Shrader, pastor of the West Hills Baptist Church in Jonesborough, may convince you that you have been missing some culinary delights.
In addition, Shrader will offer you and your family a plot in the church’s “Garden of Hope.” Based upon a concept known as Square Foot Gardening, church members and volunteers have fashioned 90 raised beds into a community garden. “If you give a plant enough water, sunlight, and nutrients, you don’t need many square feet to raise a garden. SFG requires less water and fertilizer, and there are fewer weeds to pull. We’re basically adapting modern greenhouse growing techniques into the home garden.”
Concrete blocks surround the plots that have a weed mat on the bottom. The tract is filled with grow mix, the equivalent of potting soil. Eventually all the 16 square-foot plots will have a trellis.
Shrader said inspiration for the garden came from a community assessment put together under the direction of Adam Dickson, President of the Jonesborough Community Chest, plus the minister’s experience in Denton, Texas where a large church has developed 300 garden plots for their community.
As explained in a church brochure, “The Garden of Hope is a place where friends come together to grow their own fresh fruits and vegetables. Each gardener has their own assigned square-foot-gardening beds that they plant, tend, and harvest. The produce is theirs to keep or share as they deem fit.”
A minister at West Hills for two years, Shrader asked his congregation, “How do we become a blessing to our community. What does the community need that we can meet the need?”
He said “The church has a beautiful piece of property in a great location across from Persimmon Ridge Park.” West Hills sits on six acres of land that was acquired 56-years ago, long before the construction of the Jonesborough town park that includes Wetlands, ball fields, a basketball court and an 18-hole disc golf course.
No gardening experience is required to obtain a plot. The pastor, who admits he has a “green thumb,” teaches garden basics and square-foot-gardening to those who obtain garden plots. There are currently over three dozen varieties of tomatoes growing in the garden. When told by a church widow who saw a purple tomato, that “tomatoes should be red,” Shrader replied “Just try this tomato.” She ate one and was amazed how delicious purple tomatoes taste. The pea-size tomatoes are like “candy” when eaten right after picking, the minister said. “They also are mouth-watering when sprinkled over a salad.”
Shrader assures would-be gardeners that “Our experts will be there to help you each step of the way throughout the season, ensuring that you have an amazing harvest.”
The church has future development plans. The main entrance to the garden is through a beautiful pergola, which will soon have benches and swings for sitting and chatting. A water catchment system will soon be constructed. It will collect rainwater from the church roof into a small pond, which will supply drip irrigation for all the beds.
“With a drip irrigation system, you get almost 100 percent water usage,” Shrader said. “This will help us combat any drought conditions that arise like the hot weather that took place last year.” The church currently has enough raised beds for about 30 families and individuals to garden. Currently, seven families have plots at the church.
“It is not too late to start a garden this year,” Shrader said. When asked what it costs to garden at the church, Shrader said, “Nothing! The Garden of Hope is a community ministry financially supported by West Hills Baptist Church.”
Gardeners are asked to be present and participate in three events over the course of the harvest season. A Spring Planting Festival was held in May. This August a Harvest Celebration will take place, followed by a Clean-Up Day in November. The church will provide refreshments at these harvest season events at which friends and families are invited to attend.
Traveling down Persimmon Ridge Road you will notice a large collection of sunflowers and native wildflowers in front of West Hills Baptist Church. Shrader said “These provide a scenic view along the road where the Lost State Scenic Walkway passes.” Another benefit is that “Sunflowers attract bees.” Also in front of the church is a “widow’s garden” containing all the features of the garden plots behind the church.
To advertise The Garden of Hope, Shrader has had a booth at the Farmers Market in Jonesborough. He tells people that they can plant whatever vegetables and flowers they want in their plots.
Initial development of the land came from funds raised by the church and donations. The donor list included General Shale, Lowe’s, Tractor Supply, Idell Construction, and Millercrest Stables.
Baptist churches in the area that assisted with volunteers included University Parkway Baptist, The Village in Bristol, Telford Baptist Church, and First Baptist in Greeneville. Rev.
Shrader also received assistance from Outside the Camp Ministry, Denton Bible Church in Denton, Texas and from the Baptist Campus Ministry at East Tennessee State University.
The church will host a Garden Camp on August 1-4. Registration is open to children ages 6-13. Kids will learn hands on about sustainable agriculture, biodiversity, seed starting, and more.
For more information, go to www.facebook.com/gardenofhopewh. Rev. Shrader can be contacted at 252-916-6813.