by David Cecelski
These are photographs from a school field trip to Anathoth Community Garden in Cedar Grove. I was just chaperoning the trip for my friend Bob Robinson’s class of sixth graders, but I ended up weeding an asparagus bed, picking garlic and killing potato bugs. On a lovely spring morning, I thought it was the loveliest place in the world, just so green and fertile and well taken care of.
The garden is located on Lonesome Road, a mile or two out of the little community of Cedar Grove in northern Orange County. Frank Bahnson, a former Duke Divinity student who is the garden’s manager, told the children that the garden started with a murder, the shooting of a local storekeeper. That murder shocked the little rural community. It led to a prayer vigil in the parking lot at the Cedar Grove United Methodist Church, where a hundred people prayed for healing and unity and did a lot of talking about how to restore a sense of community to Cedar Grove.
That was three years ago. Today Anathoth Community Garden is the embodiment of that yearning for community healing that was first expressed at the prayer vigil. What began with a death has become a garden. Life out of death, the heart of the New Testament. Sponsored by the Cedar Grove United Methodist Church and located on 5 acres of land donated by a local African-American woman, the garden is run by approximately 80 members who each commit to working several hours a week in exchange for a share of the produce raised in the garden.
Anathoth is more than a gardening cooperative though. The gardeners carry fresh vegetables to local people, mostly the elderly, who might otherwise go hungry. They hold workshops on organic gardening, stewardship and other gardening topics. And there seems to be a job there for everyone—church members, old local families, new Latino residents, students from N.C. State and Chapel Hill. Most help in the garden, but some also helped build greenhouses or the new children’s playhouse. One group of local church women has also been constructing a nature trail on the edge of the garden. They adorned the trail with native plants rescued from construction and clear-cutting sites where they would have been destroyed. Again, life out of death.
Anathoth also hosts interns, lots of church groups, and students of all ages, from those in pre-school to those in divinity school. All are given a chance to explore the Biblical call to stewardship of the Earth and to discover how to grow food in a way that strengthens their connection to the land, to the community and to God.
A big believer in learning by doing, Frank Bahnson puts them all to work. He had our 6th graders doing everything from turning compost to picking strawberries. While we were there, a vanload of folks from a local group home came to help out too, something that they do twice every week, so we also got to visit with them a little bit. Frank and the garden’s interns rewarded the children with strawberries—the sweetest ever—and freshly-picked garlic bulbs to take home.
To learn more about Anathoth Community Garden, check out its web site, www.anathothgarden.org.