DAYTONA BEACH, Fla.—At the corner of Grandview and Lenox, just a short walk from the beach itself, grow 45 beds of fresh fruits, vegetables, and herbs. Tomatoes, peppers, strawberries, and papayas comprise a farmers market’s worth of produce.
One block away, separated by a parking lot, stands First Presbyterian Church of Daytona Beach.
“We like to refer to our church as a loving, quirky, community church,” pastor Bill Anderson said. “It has, over the years, changed with the neighborhood and has adopted a number of creative ways of reaching out to that neighborhood to be a witness for Jesus Christ.”
The community garden is one creative outreach. People from neighboring houses can rent a raised bed for a small fee. The garden has had a unifying, stabilizing effect on a neighborhood that has seen a lot of change.
“For the last few decades, we have seen significant transformation from single family residential homes in the neighborhood to multiple family rental units,” Anderson said. “With that, fewer and fewer people have yards of their own that they can claim, and that’s why the community garden has been an effective outreach.”
Instead of church members renting most of the garden beds, mostly local neighbors till the ground.
Virginia Snyder moved to Florida in 1994, and she’s been in Daytona for the past three years. She lives in a senior living home nearby and rents seven garden beds. She donates most of her bounty to the kitchen at the senior home, stocking it with her tomatoes, onions, garlic, and herbs.
“I just like being outside,” Snyder said. “I’ve always had a garden when in Ohio. One guy kidded, said they’d plow the back field for me. I said I’d love that. Do you know what I can do with that?”
About 75 percent of the garden beds are rented. You can still see the remnants of gardens past in the unrented beds. Since no one rents the plots, the other gardeners share the bounty from abandoned plants, including some papaya trees.
Emese Asztalos, the church’s associate pastor, sees the community garden as a way to reach outside the church walls.
“Some people walk by the church and think, oh, that’s a church,” she said. “Now we’re getting outside and into the community and doing things. Not just inviting them to come to the worship service. That’s good.”
The garden is one of many ministries launched by the church. For each outreach, the ministry teams try to recognize and serve specific needs within the community.
They formed a mission group around the neighborhood children, many who come from low-income, unstable homes.
“We had about 40 or 50 children and it was very wonderful,” church member Phoebe Smith said. “It meant a lot to the church, even though the kids would go up and sit on the altar and it was kind of a shock to this very traditional church. … And we would say, you know, sit with them. They don’t know how to act during worship. So people started asking children to sit with them, and it was really beautiful to see the way that ministry developed.”
Last year, they even got the kids involved in the garden. Once a month, the children would water and plant seeds.
Now, as the plants begin to bear fruit, Smith and Anderson hope their ministries continue to bear fruit for the Kingdom of God.