Trenton church shares garden food through ingenuity

Trenton church shares garden food through ingenuity

Amy Morgan (standing in back) leads Orange Grove Center volunteers in delivering fresh vegetables to a food pantry. Photo by Dennis Flaugher

TRENTON, Ga. -- It’s 95 degrees at 3 p.m. Most people would seek a cool sheltered place to spend the afternoon.

Not Jimmy Reeves. He’s walking amongst lush vegetable plants beneath the beating sun, explaining how his church found ways to connect the community with fresh produce.
Jimmy Reeves inspects the gardens on
June 22. Photo by Annette Spence

“With the rising cost of food, we saw a need for a mission to help people who are struggling,” said Reeves, lay leader at Trenton United Methodist Church.

It’s not only a special irrigation system that’s helping Trenton’s community garden succeed when volunteers can’t necessarily be on call every day to keep it watered. The Rev. Dennis Flaugher, Trenton pastor, also identified a partnering group that delivers the peas, squash, tomatoes, collards, cabbage and other fresh garden food to targeted locations.

Every Friday, a group of adults with developmental and mental delays load the vegetables from the garden and transport them a retirement community, a regional food pantry, and Dade County schools.

“It’s so good for them and so good for our church and community to be involved with them,” said Flaugher, referring to the volunteers from Orange Grove Center.

The individuals served by Orange Grove Center meet every weekday at Trenton United Methodist Church for education and personal growth. Amy Morgan, support manager, says learning job skills is a primary goal for the 26 people, ages 23 to 56, on her roster at the Trenton location. Opportunities to volunteer help the Orange Grove individuals learn to take directions, work with people, and stay on task.

“When it’s Friday and it’s time to go, everybody wants to go and everybody wants to help,” Morgan said. “The interaction with members of the community -- that’s communion.”
The Trenton community garden takes off.
Photo by Jimmy Reeves

The idea to work with Orange Grove evolved when the community garden started to take off this spring and Reeves said to his pastor, “We’re growing all this stuff. Now what are we going to do with it?” Flaugher said. 

Trenton started the community garden in 2021 as a pilot project with three raised beds. “It’s for those who cannot make it to the store. We’re trying to reach those who are left behind,” Flaugher said.

Church members sign up to build the beds, plant or harvest. The raised beds are built with repurposed metal from a church roof.

The pilot project went so well that Reeves decided to take the garden to a new level, coinciding with his retirement as a machinist.

“We have a good vision. People have bought into it, but you’ve also got to have a Jimmy to do what we’re doing,” Flaugher said.

This year, Trenton members built 17 more raised beds, then built five more for a total of 25. They raised $5,000 for the dirt alone, says church member Eddy Gifford. About 30 volunteers have now invested time in the garden. Trenton UMC has about 150 in average in-person worship attendance, plus another 75 in online worship.
Church member Eddy Gifford (left) 
and Rev. Dennis  Flaugher

After the beds were built, Reeves began working on the element he discerned as key to the garden’s success. With the help of a $1,000 grant from United Methodist Appalachian Ministry Network, Reeves installed an irrigation system with a timer that delivers gallons of water to the vegetable beds twice a day.

“I lost some sleep over that because I wasn’t spending my money. I was spending the church’s money,” said Reeves, estimating the irrigation investment to be $1,600 total.
Reeves checks the timer on the irrigation
system. Photo by Annette Spence

In the middle of a June heatwave, it’s easy to see how the irrigation system and Reeves’ almost-daily attention blesses the garden as well as the people served, Flaugher said.

This week, for instance, Reeves was checking the garden and noticed a zucchini that seemed to have grown overnight. He took a closer look and quickly picked 12 ½ pounds of zucchini as well as a ¾ pound of okra, which is just beginning to take off.

Three main locations have been selected for the produce to be delivered, including Tri-State Food Pantry located at Sand Mountain United Methodist Church in Trenton.

Morgan said the Orange Grove workers were delighted recently when Rose Powell, food bank manager, invited them to stay and help hand out the vegetables: “People up there are so nice. They love seeing them and the chance to talk to them,” Morgan said.
Rose Powell (left) works with an Orange
Grove volunteer at Tri-State Food Pantry.
Photo by Dennis Flaugher

Using Orange Grove’s vans, Morgan’s group also delivers to an apartment complex for low-income seniors and to board members of Dade County Schools, who identify food-insecure families able to cook the vegetables.

Closer to the church, vegetables have also been distributed recently to a neighbor who cooks vegetables for other low-income families. In addition to 11 kinds of vegetables, the garden also includes three beds of dahlias. The flowers are tended by a member of Wauhatchie United Methodist Church, Ernie Ponder, who likes to share free flowers with groups or individuals.

“The idea is to offer a few beds of happiness for those who are sick or down,” Reeves said.

The sun is intense today among the string beans and cherry tomatoes, and so is Reeves’ passion for what’s flourishing on the back lot behind the church office.
A church member harvests a beet.
Photo by Dennis Flaugher

“This ministry has gone way further than people expected it to go,” he said. “Go big or go home, I guess. I am thankful and blessed.”

 Sign up for a free weekly subscription to The CallHolston Conference includes 842 United Methodist congregations in East Tennessee, Southwest Virginia, and North Georgia. 



Annette Spence

Annette Spence is editor of The Call, the Holston Conference newsletter.

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