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Down to earth — ward welfare garden project

Several donated plots yield produce, solutions to identified challenges

NORTH OGDEN, UTAH

Last season's corn, pumpkins, beans, salsa ingredients and other produce have mostly faded into delicious memories, leaving nothing but rich, brown soil in the garden plots of the North Ogden 1st Ward, North Ogden Utah Stake. But the members' faith that led to last season's bountiful harvest has been replaced with this season's perfect knowledge that as they sow, so shall they reap.

Under the direction of ward garden specialist Karen Johnson and her assistant, Rebekah Clements, the ward will again go forth with shovels, hoes, strong backs and willing hearts to plant, cultivate and harvest seven ward garden patches.

In Sister Johnson's living room, she, Bishop Rodney B. Adams and Relief Society President Loretta Shupe were full of enthusiasm as they told Church News about the joy of the previous year's ward welfare project and bubbled optimistically about this year's more ambitious project.

As ideas to solve several ward challenges evolved into the garden project early in 2007, six families in the ward donated part of their garden plots for the ward's use. Others donated the fruit from trees in their yards. From planting to harvest, all members of the ward were invited to work in the gardens, and then to partake of the fruit and vegetables of their labor.

Objectives included giving parents a way to teach children the value of work, giving members needing assistance a way to pay back through their own labor, providing a way for members struggling to take care of large yards — especially the elderly — help in doing so, providing service projects and social opportunities, and providing a way to reach out to neighbors of other faiths.

Bishop Adams noted that of 200 living units in the ward, half are rentals. That means a lot of families don't have any property of their own for a garden to supplement their food supply and give work opportunities for their children.

Everyone in the ward was invited to participate, Sister Johnson said, adding, "The Lord wants to keep us busy, and many hands make light work."

Through the 2007 season, families, young men, young women and others showed up to take care of the gardens. On work nights, everyone met at the Church for prayer before dispersing to the various plots, Bishop Adams said. Sister Johnson kept records of how much seed was used and what it yielded, as well as how much work was donated (nearly 600 man-hours).

Each plot has a garden master, she said. It is usually someone who lives near a particular plot and advises the ward of work that needs to be done — such as weeding, watering and harvesting — during the season.

A highlight came at the home of Glen Hadley, now 89 years old, who donated a large plot on his yard for a corn patch. The corn harvest was combined with a packing event that drew many members of the ward to a social-like atmosphere. The corn was picked, husked over a large canvas tarp, steamed on outdoor stoves, cooled in chests full of ice, cut from the cob and put into bags for freezing. The husks, cobs and stalks were taken to feed cattle so there would be no waste.

Some of the 215 quart bags of corn were delivered to widows and widowers, the elderly, some needy families and neighbors not members of the Church. There were bags left over to distribute among the rest of the ward.

Peppers, tomatoes and onions were grown in a salsa garden. Fruit, beans and pickles were bottled. The bumper crop helped the ward toward its goal: "Every jar full."

The season was capped with a ward Halloween party complete with "home grown" pumpkins harvested in a snowstorm.

"Last year, we didn't know how successful it would be," Sister Shupe said. "This year we know what we can do."

And they will do more, Sister Johnson said, planting a greater variety of produce and using a seventh garden plot donated by a family of another faith. She also said they will respond to a survey that revealed many members want to learn more about gardening. Besides the ward gardens, many families have their own gardens. Ward member Laura Matthews, who has a college degree in horticulture, will kick off the campaign teaching a class about gardening. There will also be other classes about various aspects of gardening as well as how to use and preserve the produce, Sister Johnson said.

Bishop Adams said that the garden project is meeting its initial objectives, and this year might be even more valuable. With the national economy struggling, he said, families might see even more benefit of utilizing and working in gardens.

"We weren't thinking too clearly last year," Sister Johnson said. But this year the ward is executing a plan to again help it reach its goals.

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