Latter-day Saints in Carpinteria have been busy planting the seeds of missionary work in their backyard.
What started out as a chest-high, weed-infested lot behind the meetinghouse for the Carpinteria Ward in the Santa Barbara California Stake has turned into a community garden where members of the Church and community gather to harvest the fruits of their labor.
The ward garden has been around for more than 30 years, but has recently opened to the community and picked up popularity in the ward.
Gardener and ward member Ron Peeleman said the garden has blessed the ward and paved the way for members to talk about their beliefs with community members as well as become more involved in the community.
“It breaks down those barriers,” Brother Peeleman said. He explained that the community’s perception of the Church had not always been the best, but has greatly changed since the instigation of the communal garden.
“People had these preconceived notions, and what you have now is people coming together wearing blue jeans, getting their hands in the dirt, exchanging seeds, sharing plants, seeing each other not as LDS/non-LDS but just people. It just brings people closer together.”
The idea for the garden came to Jorge Gonzalez, second counselor in the Carpinteria bishopric who was inspired by prophetic counsel to make productive use of the land.
“The prophets say we should grow our own vegetables, our own plants,” Brother Gonzalez said. “That’s where the idea came from, and we had this open lot in the back of the Church [building], and I said, ‘Why don’t we open this to the community and to all members so they can have the garden here?’ ”
About two dozen people are involved with the garden, a majority of whom are not Latter-day Saints.
Brother Gonzalez said a boy from the community who works in the garden has become involved in Cub Scouts and Primary. A woman was recently baptized and continues to work in the garden. Members are often sharing the gospel with other gardeners and the missionaries are getting more opportunities to teach.
“Last week we were there in the garden watering plants and a lady came in and was wondering about the garden,” Brother Gonzalez said. The woman was impressed by the garden, and Brother Gonzalez invited her and her family to participate as well. He also told her about the Church and invited her to attend the meetings.
“We sit down, we talk. How can that not bring people closer together?” Brother Peeleman said. “We’ve got them attending activities, meetings, active in Cub Scouts. It integrates the community.”
Bill Taff, a member of the bishopric, said the garden also strengthens the relationships between the ward members, especially those who have recently moved in.
“Some of the new families in the ward, when they found out we had that gardening opportunity, were very excited about it, and they have taken advantage of it,” Brother Taff said. “It benefits us in so many ways.”
The Carpinteria Ward also benefits from the garden’s plethora of fruits and vegetables: apples, oranges, tangerines, guava, plums, figs, lemons, limes, pomegranate, avocados, leeks, onions, beets, lettuce, peppers of all varieties, beans, peas, zucchini, cucumber, potatoes, squash, berries, kale, cilantro, tomatoes, pumpkins, corn and much more.
Some sections of the garden are used for specific purposes. One member of the ward, Yi Yang, a convert from Laos, has devoted a section of the garden for Asian vegetables. Another area is used to teach the Primary children how to garden.
“We had the Primary children come over, and we bought little sprouts for them and helped them plant them,” Brother Peeleman said. “You’re teaching as well. A lot of things come out of that effort, [especially] self-reliance and hard work.”
The food produced in the garden is shared between the gardeners, as well as donated to those in need. Garden members will take excess food to the Santa Barbra Food Bank and to Church on Sundays to distribute to ward members.
“Ladies will fill big baskets and put them in the foyer and when people go out of [the meetinghouse] they just take whatever they need,” Brother Gonzalez said. “The whole thing is sharing the produce that comes out of the garden.”
To celebrate the success of the garden, the gardeners hosted a Harvest Day party.
“We did a big party in the parking lot next to the garden and had about 100 participants,” Brother Peeleman said. “We had 100 ears of corn and they were all gone. Everything was from the garden: we had zucchini’s grilled from the garden, lettuce from the garden, peppers, tomatoes. It was a harvest day.”
The Carpinteria area has been in a drought for the last seven months. “This year we’ve been more sensitive to water,” Brother Taff said. “We use a drip system that uses about one tenth of the amount of water we’ve used before.”
Bishop Steve Donovan said the garden isn’t just to help members grow their own fruits and vegetables but is also a way for “ward members [to] get out there and mingle with others in the community. That’s the biggest thing, not just becoming self-reliant, but becoming a community affair.”