The Community Garden thrums with life, murmuring in the morning light as enthusiastic Tarrant County kids dash from one thrilling sight to another. The aroma of barbeque and sugar hangs thicker than the humid air on this patch of vibrant green grass tucked away behind a line of trees on Industrial Boulevard. Another brutal Texas summer encroaches on the Cultivate Garden Event, but the young explorers don’t seem to notice as they bound between public works and construction vehicles on display in the field next to 6 Stones. From fire truck to bounce house to SWAT response vehicle, the children’s march is delayed only by the enticement of food trucks stacked along the East side of the property. On this day, the garden is more than a source of nutrition for hungry families. It’s now an essential supplement to childhood memories.
When the City of Bedford agreed to jointly sponsor this miniature urban farm, it was with such festivities in mind. In the last year, the 6 Stones garden churned out over a half ton of fresh produce for local men and women. But it was always meant to be more. The Community Garden is a vibrant and beautiful part of the community as a whole, and it affords families the chance to get away from the everyday grind of modern life and experience a small taste of something fresh and fun. It has long been a site for service, a hub of hope and even a place of peace. It’s time we make it a centerpiece of fun, as well. The pioneering Cultivate Event — like future activities that will follow in its footsteps — was tailor-made to give our neighbors an innovative, extraordinary way to interact with each other and with the people who serve them. In this garden, we grow together.
“I am smiling so big today. This is a dream come true,” said Annette Lee, the Master Gardener who oversees day-to-day care of the garden. “It’s a vision. This is a true sense of community here. There are people from all walks of life. There are vendors here; people who are starting their businesses. People that are making their dreams come true. There are people here that are enjoying all the goods and things that are out here today, so it’s a wonderful sense of community.”
On this June morning, perhaps the most diverse crowd in the garden’s history is sprawled across the open field that stands behind rows of cinder-block-and-soil beds and a simple but magisterial pavilion. Over 500 visitors pour across the mulch and gravel, some in strollers and some with hands tightly wound together with those of their children. They indulge in doughnuts and gourmet grilled cheese sandwiches, slake their thirst with craft lemonade and cold-brewed coffee and cool off with delicious popsicles in the shade of the trees growing just outside the fence that separates the garden from surrounding homes and businesses. The soundtrack to their play is provided, free of charge, by DFW’s newest radio station: Way FM. For visitors and vendors young and old, this is a visionary slice of a new kind of unity.
“To see this — to see the trucks sitting out here and the kids having a blast, running around — that’s just an awesome visual. The best thing I’ve seen out here is a Momma chasing after her kid, running to go see one of the trucks,” said Charlene Goodrich, the founder and owner of Le Monade Beverage Boutique and Café. “Seeing local people who live right here in their own community, and supporting them; supporting their businesses, that’s been good.”
Goodrich launched her company by accident when her husband lost his job four years ago. She started baking to round out the family’s budget. Since then, she’s run everything from food trucks to cafés, always specializing in lemonade with a twist. The garden was awash with local businesses like hers, many of them owned and operated by a single entrepreneur. A transplanted citizen from Illinois sold repurposed scraps of glass discarded by her employer, recycling the waste pieces into soulful art. A local father touted his hand-crafted leather goods in a tent at the center of the pop-up village. Fair trade gifts with a purpose lined a table manned by High Point Supply Co, situated across the way from a mother manning a rolling popsicle cart that belonged to her daughter’s dessert venture. Across the field, a converted truck has parked and opened up its rear doors to reveal a mobile fashion boutique. In short: everything a person could dream up found its way into about an acre of open lawn beside our office. For some, it was a golden opportunity to see and be seen.
“It’s good to be here because you get to make connections with different and various vendors. It’s fun to get to meet new foot traffic, new people. It’s good marketing, if I’m just being honest,” said Chelsea-Shay Laning, the woman staffing High Point’s merchandise table. “It’s great to associate ourselves with people who we care about and who have an expanded reach themselves. So there’s multiple give-backs.”
“Our whole job is ministry first and business afterward. So as long as we can minister to the community, we can make a greater impact for the Kingdom,” said Jade Reyes, Community Impact Director for Way FM. “We need to have this kind of thing everywhere… People want to explore and gather together in this fun way, with music in the background and donuts in a truck. It’s convenient, so I think this is very important for Bedford and the surrounding areas. They don’t have to drive very far to have a community event. They can just go outside their door!”
Sometimes, the difference between the ordinary and the incredible is simply a single person or group who is willing to take the first step forward. That’s the core of what we do here: we bring together resources from around the community and make them into something bigger than they could be on their own. This first Cultivate event was no exception. Every truck on display for kids to climb and explore came courtesy of a city partner or corporate sponsor, most at no cost to us. Vendors were allowed to set up and sell their wares without paying a fee for their booth, allowing their small businesses a better chance to generate profits as well as exposure. There was no entry fee to discourage families from dropping in and spending time together, mingling with their neighbors and discovering businesses that might otherwise have remained hidden from them. All we wanted was to bring people together in an era of personal screens and solitude.
“Unfortunately, we live in a world where people don’t meet and talk anymore,” said Jonathan Hollon, a broadcast engineer from North Richland Hills who brought his family out to the garden for the day. “I think that events like this help people to engage in conversation in person, as opposed to text message or social media or through emails. I think that our culture has lost that. We’ve lost that idea of coming together as a group or as a community to spend time together. To enjoy each other’s conversation and eat good food and support local crafters.”
Hollon first got involved with 6 Stones through the Community Powered Revitalization (CPR) program, working on homes in Watauga. His church — 121 Community Church in Grapevine — had helped to connect him because of his family’s passion for the city they lived in at the time, a city 6 Stones was just beginning to serve through CPR. He’d driven past the garden frequently in the intervening years, catching glimpses of it through the trees that hide it from the major road it sits beside, but had never seen it up close. For him, the branches of 6 Stones that weren’t part of his regular volunteer service were finally on display — as soon as his kids were done breaking in the bounce house and munching on donuts.
Whether it was a diversion for their children, an exciting, non-traditional shopping experience, or just an excuse to get out of the house, our hope for the Cultivate series is that it exposed everyone to something new. Children got to see their heroes in the police and fire departments up close, businesses got to show off their brand’s unique style, and 6 Stones volunteers got to roam one of the least exposed assets we have. Even though the garden sits on our property, feeding into the New Hope Center and providing fresh produce for families who visit us by the hundreds every week, it’s rare for most of our partners to experience everything it has to offer. It was made for community, and we’ve only just begun to make the most of it.
“We wanted [the garden] to be a community spot where we could do things: concerts, movies, whatever we could think to do out here to bring the community together and enjoy each other’s company,” said Bedford Mayor Jim Griffin, on site for the Cultivate event. “It’s of great value for the family and community aspect of our city, to draw people together and see how we all get along, how everything works. We even have folks from Euless and other companies here to participate in what 6 Stones is all about. It does two things. It gets us together as a community, but it also teaches everybody about how important the mission at 6 Stones is; the things we do to reach out to the community.”
It’s wonderful to be allowed to reach out to this community. And it’s even more wonderful that this community reaches back. Let’s get together to celebrate again soon.