At St. Peter’s Espiscopal Church, just east of downtown Lebanon, a large field surrounding the church has been converted into an outdoor classroom, a food share ministry, and a place for peaceful reflection and prayer.

What’s known as Harvest House Community Center has become a real hub for gardening and beekeeping since the idea came to fruition about six years ago. As part of the church’s commitment to being good stewards of the lands surrounding its physical presence in the community, St. Peter’s took up the challenge of providing freshly grown local produce to help feed those in need in the greater Boone County area.

The mission of Harvest House is to teach the 3 P’s (Plant, Prepare, Preserve) to both parishioners and people beyond their own membership. The goal is to help head off or alleviate some of the food insecurity faced by many families today. Ironically, most areas where agriculture is the chief industry are also the areas most likely to be classified as food deserts today.

A food desert is a geographic area, urban or rural, where residents don’t have adequate access to affordable, healthy foods such as fresh fruits and vegetables, because there are no grocery stores, farmers’ markets, or stands within easy access. The USDA defines a food desert as any area where about 33% of households do not have access to a grocery (convenience marts do not count) within one mile of where they live.

Parishioner Sandy Dailey serves as the program coordinator. She and her husband Chuck (Lebanon High School Class of ‘76) have also made their home on a nearby property for the past several years.

Besides the Harvest House, the ministry at St. Peter’s has established a thriving set of bee hives that are producing honey and pollinating the gardens across the wide field behind the church.

Other amenities have come with the commitment to growing food. A restful firepit area is a gathering place for youth meetings or sharing. Created as an Eagle Scout’s project, it is also scheduled to be rimmed by a large U-shaped planting bed for more produce growing sometime in the near future. This season, small raised gardens with paved work paths between them were installed. A grant allowed for a few ADA compliant height raised planters as well. With the paved area and taller planting boxes, access for those who contend with mobility or movement issues are able to get their hands dirty too.

In another initiative, the garden has personal plots available to individuals who would like to rent their own personal patch. Recently, a double-sized spot was planted up with an ambitious crop of tomato rows. All of the food grown and harvested by the volunteers at St. Peter’s is given away.

“We take most of what we harvest to the food bank at St. Joseph in Lebanon,” Dailey said. “But we also have volunteers who come out and load up bags to deliver directly to shut-ins throughout the week. It’s just a great thing to see, that’s really our Care for Creation in action.”

Dailey shows off the herb garden with its bubbling low profile fountain. “The bees really appreciate this,” she says.

Inside the small utility building is classroom space. “Usually we would be running four camp sessions in the summer, but not with COVID.” The classroom includes a commercial grade kitchen with an industrial freeze-drying machine where folks can learn about drying their fresh foods, and proper storage methods. Preparation and other preservation methods can be taught in workshops in the space.

Committed to this ministry, St. Peter’s has sent Dailey and another church member to Texas A&M University for training in both agriculture practices and teaching. As a result, Dailey is now certified to teach the Junior Master Gardener Program. It is with great excitement and pride that they prepare to hold a graduation ceremony for their first class.

If all of this isn’t enough to achieve barely five years after having an idea for a church garden, they’ve also teamed up with a group of Urban Agriculturists from Indianapolis. The Community Share Gardens project is in its first year. The Indiana Black Farmers Co-Op is using part of the St. Peter’s fields to grow their all-organic crops.

The BFC mission to Educate, Collaborate, and produce Good Healthy Food is a perfect match with the church’s program. The four participating farmers (all female) currently grow at several spots in Indianapolis and sell their harvests in areas where real, fresh, and especially organic, food is scarce.

Overall, the garden isn’t the only thing growing at St. Peter’s. Outreach, learning, sustainability and stewardship are all coming together to produce a healthier community in mind, body and spirit.

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