There’s an old saying about the difference between being called to something and being equipped for it. We usually assume that a calling follows the equipping and that the equipping is very intentional. Sometimes, though, we find ourselves at the front of something we never thought we’d do. In those instances, hindsight almost always reveals that we’ve spent our life preparing for the call. We just didn’t know it. For Annette Lee, the Master Gardener behind the 6 Stones Community Garden, feeding hundreds of men and women in Hurst, Euless, and Bedford was never part of the plan. But she was prepared when the opportunity came.
A farm-grown agriculturist who grew up tending her own produce, Annette never thought she’d return to the world of vegetable production. When she enrolled in classes to become a Master Gardener 6 years ago, she was only hoping to pick up a few tips to help her better care for her roses. Several years after completing that training, however, she found herself at the center of an unanticipated conversation: Scott Sheppard, the executive director here at 6 Stones, was looking for someone to start a garden in the vacant field next to our main office. Annette was quickly volunteered for the task by one of her friends.
“It’s probably one of the biggest blessings in my life in the last four years, getting involved with 6 Stones and helping the community to build this beautiful community garden,” she told us, “I enjoy sharing with others. I enjoy teaching. I enjoy gardening. The spiritual clarity that it gives me is something that I take a lot of stock in. Every day, being able to come out here [with the] volunteers and showing people something that they didn’t know about something that they eat every day; it’s been a big blessing for me.”
She’s not the only one being blessed. Half of all crops grown in the garden are donated directly to the New Hope Center, where they can be distributed to economically disadvantaged families who are otherwise unlikely to have access to nutritious options. Without access to fresh fruits and vegetables, those individuals go without key vitamins and minerals that are essential to their physical health. Last year, the Community Garden yielded a half ton of fresh, organic produce for men and women in the HEB area.
“…it’s divided again and again and shared over and over.”
Increasing access to healthy alternatives is only a piece of the grand design. We’re honored to be part of a coalition that is working to feed people who struggle to stay healthy, but we want to do more than put food on the table. We want to bring people to the table. By helping Tarrant County citizens to feed our neighbors, the Community Garden does more than churn out carrots and peas. According to Annette, it provides a space for interaction and relationship development; it’s not just a garden run by the community. It’s a garden that actively builds the community.
“You have a plot next to someone you probably never would’ve met in the metroplex or even in your school or your work. It brings a whole level of different people and socializing with someone you’d have never met,” she said. “It may be someone you’re helping on a level you’ll never know; just maybe by the conversation you have or what you’re teaching them about gardening. There’s people of all ages, all backgrounds, all educational levels, all expertises in gardening, and what we’re all doing is a common thing: we’re helping our neighbors.”
Our neighbors need more than food. They need love and friendship; education and support. Annette says that the men and women who watch over plots in the garden get more out of their time together than they could ever get out of the ground. When a gardener is sick, they have a support network. When one loses a family member, they have friends to lean on. As one of the key overseers of the project, Annette is excited to see the plots in our backyard bearing fruit in more ways than one. She says that, over the years, tenants have rallied together to find jobs, feed neighbors, and overcome personal hardship.
“The thing I’ve learned is unconditional friendship,” Annette said, when asked what she’s gotten out of her years in the garden. “There’s been people that have had medical issues, that have had family troubles, that have been in need financially. People have come together, not just as 6 Stones Mission Network, but as fellow gardeners and neighbors and either checked on that person, helped that person financially, or was there emotionally for someone that was going through a difficult time.”
“There’s all sort of things that have been just that spark, just that catalyst that helps someone in one way or another.”
One little patch of land, boasting 77 plots of fertile soil, is the launch pad for everything from friendships to personal development to stress relief. Plenty of volunteers, Annette included, have noted that a sense of peace permeates the air between rows of mulch and cinderblock beds. She says that a miniature urban farm like ours not only offers a soothing simplicity, but also serves as an educational resource. One plot, frequented by newcomers, scout troops, and school children, is devoted entirely to instruction. But that's not the only way the garden reaches beyond its borders. Annette says that plenty of farmers give almost all of their yield directly to the food pantry at New Hope. Moreover, even those who keep their portion of the crops tend to pass on the blessing.
“A lot of people donate more than 50%” Annette said, before adding. “A lot of people will take the additional produce and they’ll share that with a neighbor. Not all of it goes into one household, it’s divided again and again and shared over and over.”
The most beautiful thing that grows in our garden isn’t something edible. It's a sense of unity and belonging. Whether they’re growing food for their own families or for complete strangers, our gardeners are sharing everything they can, making the most of the resources afforded to them. They stretch, they share, they support one another. Because of the garden, each of them is part of a larger whole. All we had to give them was some dirt, some water, and a few seeds to get started.
Thanks to our partnership with the City of Bedford, we have the means to rent out space to friends and neighbors who want to help us provide for our community. All a prospective gardener needs is a willingness to learn and an eagerness to serve. According to Annette, it doesn’t take much to be a part of the garden. She averages only a few hours of labor per week, usually tucked into the commute home from work or reserved in a peaceful block of time on the weekend. That said, she still hopes you’ll come to help.
“There’s always a need in the garden,” she told us. “It’s very joyful when you see folks coming to help you lighten your load.”
Help us lighten the load. Let’s grow something. Together.