Spirit of giving grows in this garden

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Black Creek United Methodist Church members and community garden volunteers Susie Baker, left, and Dorothy Smith, second from left, help Michelle Dudley and Donnie Pilkington fill bags with fresh vegetables Wednesday at the church's community garden. Drew C. Wilson | Times
Black Creek United Methodist Church members and community garden volunteers Susie Baker, left, and Dorothy Smith, second from left, help Michelle Dudley and Donnie Pilkington fill bags with fresh vegetables Wednesday at the church's community garden. Drew C. Wilson | Times

BLACK CREEK — The motto in Black Creek is “A Small Town with a Big Heart.”

Parishioners at Black Creek United Methodist Church represent that spirit with their annual community garden.

“This was a mission we wanted to do as a church to involve the community and to give back to the community,” said Dorothy Smith, a member of the church. “In Jesus’ time, he was always giving to people. We want to make ourselves visible in the community so they will know that we have a heart of giving.”

Church members Richard and Cheryl Thornton helped start the garden four years ago, according to Susie Baker, a member of the dedicated group of volunteers who now tend to the plot near the church.

“We were a food desert at the time that we started it, meaning it was 8 miles to the nearest Walmart from Black Creek,” Baker said. “There is no food for sale in Black Creek. There wasn’t at the time. In the meantime we have gotten a Family Dollar, but there was no food in Black Creek. There are a lot of poor people in Black Creek, people that don’t know how to have a garden, don’t have space for a garden or don’t know how to grow things. Fresh vegetables are healthier and appreciated by many people.”

Baker said the whole point of having the garden is trying the help the community.

“People do not have to come to our church or be a member of our church or ever want to come to our church to be recipients of this garden,” Baker said. “It’s for the community. It’s not to promote our church.”

Baker said people are very happy to receive the produce.

The group usually has a work time Wednesday mornings to chop weeds, pick produce or do whatever needs to be done.

In the afternoon between 1 and 3 p.m., they put the vegetables on a yellow cart with a big sign at the top that reads “Free Vegetables.”

“Usually in about an hour, we have given away everything we can pick out of the garden,” Baker said. “We give them to anybody. We don’t ask for your income, your driver’s license or your name. You drive up in a brand new Mercedes and you want vegetables, you get vegetables. We don’t know their circumstances. You want vegetables, you get vegetables. We don’t make judgments or anything. We just pass out vegetables.”

Black Creek UMC provides the water for irrigation at the garden. The whole church comes together to buy seeds and supports the garden by word of mouth if somebody needs fresh vegetables.

“The whole church is really involved,” Baker said. “They are supporting us with their encouragements and their finances.”

Students from Lee Woodard Elementary School have come over to help plant things on field trips.

Kids from the nearby ABC Academy daycare have also come by to help pick up potatoes when they were being dug.

“They plant it, pick it and eat it,” said volunteer Laura Lee Garrett.

The garden has helped the children to visualize where their food comes from.

“We had a little boy the other day when we were digging up potatoes who said he had never eaten a potato,” Garrett said. “One of our volunteers asked him if he had ever eaten French fries, and he said, ‘Oh, yes ma’am, I love French fries.’

Larry Baker, Susie’s husband, said this year’s garden grew corn, red potatoes and Yukon gold potatoes, squash and zucchini, beets, okra, cucumbers, green peppers and tomatoes, collards and onions.

Larry Baker, a retired farmer and a retired farm equipment salesman, helped till the ground for the garden.

“We planted potatoes around the first of March,” he said. “Then after the threat of frost, probably late April, is when we planted everything else. This garden will go on until about September, when we will plant fall things like turnip, kale, collards and cabbage and cool weather stuff. We actually plant the garden twice.

“We have a spring garden and a fall garden,” Larry Baker said. “We actually try to keep it gong all year long if we can as long as everything lasts.”

Richard Thornton, who also has a tractor, has helped with fertilizing the garden.

Thornton has a little two-row planter that is needed for planting corn in rows.

Smith, whose late husband, Ralph M. Smith Sr. was at one time the mayor of Black Creek, is among the volunteers who regularly tend the garden.

“I grew up on a farm and we had a garden, and we worked in the garden,” Smith said. “We took care of it by hoeing, picking and hot-housing it and stuff, so I came from a farmer’s family. You want to give to others when you are working on the farm. We were always giving things away too in our garden.”

Susie Baker said Smith is working in the garden all of the time.

“She is in her 80s, and she can work a circle around me,” Susie Baker said about Smith. “Dorothy has gardened pretty much her whole life, and she knows some things. She knows when things are ready, and she is quite excellent with a hoe as far as chopping weeds.”

Smith’s son, Ralph “Mack” Smith Jr., is currently the mayor of Black Creek.

Other helpers include Laura Lee Garrett, Brad Garrett and Janie Yelverton.

Last year, the group wrote and received a grant from the Duke Endowment to purchase soil, irrigation equipment and a refrigeration room that allows the vegetables to be picked throughout the week and held fresh for the Wednesday giveaway.

“I think this is the best garden we have had,” Smith said. “It’s been pretty, and we have given away a lot of vegetables this year.”

Michelle Dudley, a nearby resident, came by Wednesday to get a bag of vegetables.

“I think it’s great for children to learn the value of growing your own crops and food, and I think it’s great for the community and it’s a win-win situation,” Dudley said.