New vegetable garden at El Dorado parish has biblical roots

Holy Redeemer parishioner Gerry Tomlinson (foreground) picks purple hull peas with Bebe Porterfield of First United Methodist Church and Rev. Bob Allen and Rev. Charles Chapman of St. Mary Episcopal Church of El Dorado in background.
Holy Redeemer parishioner Gerry Tomlinson (foreground) picks purple hull peas with Bebe Porterfield of First United Methodist Church and Rev. Bob Allen and Rev. Charles Chapman of St. Mary Episcopal Church of El Dorado in background.

EL DORADO — The custom of gleaning — allowing the poor to follow the reapers in the field to “glean” leftover grains — is one of the early Hebrew agricultural laws described in the Old Testament.
In the 21st century, gleanings have resurfaced as a way to provide for the hungry, especially during a recession. This summer, Holy Redeemer Parish in El Dorado participated in a new gleanings project, an ecumenical effort to deliver fresh, homegrown produce to those in need throughout Union County. The church donated a nearby 100-foot-by-60-foot parcel of land to get the large garden project going.
Father Gregory Pilcher, OSB, pastor of Holy Redeemer, said he felt the gleanings project was a more appropriate use of the empty lot, which was left vacant following the demolition of an old apartment complex.
“It certainly was more beneficial than just growing grass, and we hoped it would inspire a sense of community among the local churches that agreed to participate,” he said.
Holy Redeemer also supplied the necessary water to irrigate the produce throughout the warmest part of the year. And not only did the church supply the lumber for a tall, wooden fence to protect the garden, parishioners also provided labor to build it.
Parishioners, through their involvement in Interfaith Help Services, also encouraged county gardeners and farmers grow an extra row and donate their excess fresh produce for distribution to those in need. IHS, an ecumenical organization that provides assistance to the needy, has seen the number of people requesting help nearly double compared to last year, according to parishioner Denise Pesek, who serves as vice-president of the IHS board.
Pesek was quick to note that it took a lot of sweat equity from a variety of volunteers from across the faith spectrum to bring the gleanings project to fruition, including representatives from St. Mary Episcopal Church, First Presbyterian Church, Our Savior Lutheran Church, First Baptist Church and First United Methodist Church.
“This year we were on a learning curve, finding out what works and what doesn’t,” said Pesek, sweat dripping from her forehead as she “gleaned” a batch of purple hull peas in the early morning August sun.
“It has been a wonderful experience for someone like me who has never really grown anything like this before, and it has helped supplement the IHS canned food drives,” she said.
On that particular morning, the family-friendly project also offered Pesek the chance to work side by side with her grandchildren.
Others who joined her in the mid-August gleaning were Rev. Bob Allen, retired pastor of St. Mary Episcopal Church; Rev. Charles Chapman, current pastor of St. Mary Church; Bebe Porterfield, IHS treasurer and member of First United Methodist Church; and Gerry Tomlinson, business manager for Holy Redeemer.
“I have gardened a long time, so when the idea for this project was first being discussed, I thought to myself, ’now that’s something I could do,’” said Porterfield, who donated produce from her own garden for distribution to the needy.
Among the gleaning garden’s fresh vegetables in which Porterfield lent her green thumb — and more than a little of her sweat — were bush beans, eggplant, squash, zucchini, tomatoes and several varieties of peppers.
“See that? That’s just the right size for picking. You can feel the peas inside the pod,” she said, nimbly grasping the thin hull of a purple hull pea, with its distinctive color.
Porterfield said that the garden’s size, larger than the majority of home gardens, was perfect for growing several rows of purple hulls. But the soil was not so perfect. Debris from the apartment complex had to be cleared and five truckloads of fresh soil brought in to properly prepare for the first seeds to be planted in May.
Several volunteers, headed by gleanings project manager Tela Webb, began weeding and planting so that the first fruits of their labor could be distributed by July. By August, the last remnants of the summer garden were being culled, though some parishioners are hopeful there might even be enough interest to continue the garden with appropriate fall produce — collards, onions, greens and the like.
“I would love to do a fall garden,” Pesek said. “But it all depends on the volunteers. It is always easier to talk about the idea of something, than it is to actually commit to doing it.”

Latest from News