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Sowing Seeds: St. Paul’s sharing its garden with the community

Rick Johns of DeKalb pulls weeds from the garden outside St. Paul's Episcopal Church in DeKalb on Tuesday. Church members volunteer to tend the garden and sell the produce once a month at the church.
Rick Johns of DeKalb pulls weeds from the garden outside St. Paul's Episcopal Church in DeKalb on Tuesday. Church members volunteer to tend the garden and sell the produce once a month at the church.

Members of St. Paul's Episcopal Church are sharing the fruits – and vegetables – of their labor through a monthly community market.

The Thrive Neighborhood Market and Community Garden offers residents a place where they can pay what they can for fresh vegetables, fruits and herbs the fourth Saturday of the month outside the church at 900 Normal Road.

“We wanted to get the produce out to people," The Rev. Stacy Walker-Frontjes said. "This is a way of sharing the fruits of the garden with others and also a way of providing space to build the community."

It's a concept a few years in the making, with the first seeds sown three years ago when Walker-Frontjes planted a garden on the church grounds in 2011. Produce and herbs flourished in the 2,500-square-foot plot and church members donated a bulk of it.

Last year, members of the church's Thrive Team, an outreach church development group, tried to give away some of the produce to people walking past, but no one would just take what they were offering.

So, through a partnership with the DeKalb County Community Gardens, the team decided to host a monthly market where people could pay what they could afford or wanted. The proceeds from the sales – $140 from the inaugural market in June – goes to DeKalb County Community Gardens.

Walker-Frontjes said the garden and market are part of the church's larger mission to serve Christ in the world by serving their neighbors. The mission is especially important, she said, because the USDA classifies the neighborhood to the west of St. Paul's as a food desert, or a place with a large low income population where the nearest grocery store is 1 mile or farther away.

“This garden is not going to keep people from starving, right?” she said. “But the joy people have when they pick up that little bunch of cilantro. And they say “I can have it for whatever I can pay for it,' and 'I can have it without losing my dignity.'”

In June, the garden produced lettuce and herbs. At the market on Sunday, customers will find broccoli, green beans, green onions, cucumbers, jalapeno, zucchini, cabbage and herbs. St. Paul's also welcomes people to bring their own produce to offer at the market, where DeKalb County Community Gardens also will have some fresh offerings. The market also will have a craft table for children.

While gardening in northern Illinois proves to be an easy task for some, the garden still requires some human care. Every Tuesday from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m., church members tend to the garden, pulling weeds and picking ripe fruit.

Weeding is like stress relief for Rick Johns, a member of the church for 15 years. On Tuesday he found himself covered in dirt battling a particularly stubborn patch of weeds, which he was happy to do because he believes the garden is a powerful tool for the church.

“It gives us something to do outside the church,” Johns said. “We're expanding outside into the community.”

For Christina Krueger, who's a member of the Thrive Team, the garden has a way of bringing people together, but also instills something deeper.

“The garden for me has been a way to be closer to God,” Krueger said. “To me, it's a miracle that this stuff happens. That you put seeds in the ground and stuff comes up. And being able to share that with other people is really cool.”


If you go

What: Thrive Neighborhood Market

When: 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday, July 26, Aug. 23 and Sept. 27

Where: St. Paul's Episcopal Church, 900 Normal Road, DeKalb

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