Church Growing Food For Community On Former Industrial Site

BOGALUSA, LA (AP) — A site that once housed a plant to produce tung oil is now planted in potatoes and onions to help feed the community.

         Last summer — its first under cultivation by ESM United Methodist Church — the garden produced an estimated 800 pounds of squash, 500 of potatoes, and smaller amounts of peanuts, cucumbers, tomatoes, bush beans and field peas.

         The 1.5-acre plot currently has 11 rows of potatoes and one of onions.

         People who live in the area can get what they need once crops are ready to harvest, said Kyle Knight, a General Dynamics Call Center manager.

         "Our one request is that they can pick all they want, but they have to pick some for someone who can't pick for themselves," he said. "We had approximately 150 people come by and pick through it last summer. We would love for anyone to pull weeds or bring their hoe and work the field that way."

         The Rev. Bill Moon, oversees work in the garden, which near the church on Avenue B. Moon has been known to get his hands dirty in the garden from time to time.

         "This was Dr. Whit Gallaspy's brainchild," Moon said. "Some of the other folks involved in it are John Gallaspy, Jim Yarborough, Kyle Knight, Pops Brazos, Greg Castorena and his brother, Javier. They've all worked out here in the garden."

         Moon said he doesn't really consider himself to have a green thumb.

         "I enjoy gardening and watching things grow," Moon said. "I think it's neat the church has this as a ministry to the community. The guys who started the garden refer themselves as 'sharecroppers.' They refer to the garden as the Widow's Garden."

         There are plans to expand the garden.

         "Plans are to keep extending it to the east," Moon said. "We've started a fund to install a two-inch water meter to help with summer irrigation needs.'

         Moon recalled how difficult it was to clear the field before planting.

         "We're constantly digging up old railroad ties, railroad spikes, tie plates, pieces of pipe and chunks of concrete," Moon said. "I refer to it as our archaeological dig. It's amazing what you can find out there. This was where the tung oil plant was. It's an abandoned industrial site that is now the home of a garden that helps feed our widows and impoverished people."

         To help remove debris from the site, Charles Weintrett loaned the gardeners his skid steer, and Stanley Scianna also loaned his heavy equipment for the task.

         Knight said the garden has the possibility of reaching so many more people.

         "We just dug up dirt last year and dropped seeds in. At all these vacant lots in town I'd love to see 20 years from now a community garden," Knight said. "To me, it's a win-win situation. You've got more food, you get to meet your neighbors, and crime goes down."

         – by AP/ Reporter Randy Hammons with The Daily News

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