By Sidney Owens
Near the end of winter each year, Festival of Sharing begins sorting and preparing garden seeds for distribution to a list of community gardens around Missouri. Copy paper boxes line multiple tables as volunteers go down the row dropping a few of each type of seed in a box. The result: about a 10-pound mixture of vegetables, herbs, fruit, and flower seeds in each box. Occasionally you will find a really unique seed like a lemon cucumber, but most of the time you see your common garden plants such as green beans, peas, carrots, broccoli, spinach, watermelon, and so on. Seeds are one of my favorite parts of our ministry. As a gardener myself, I appreciate the opportunity to raise and care for my own food. It is so exciting to see those boxes full of seeds that families or garden clubs are going to work together on and enjoy for the next several months.
This year, our seeds went out at the end of February when most people were still experiencing the cold Missouri weather. Recently, I reconnected with our seed recipients to see if they were able to plant anything between the pandemic and wet weather. While some seeds are awaiting planting, others filled a gap presented by COVID-19. Because of an abundance of seed donations in 2019, we were able to provide our state’s Cultivating Restorative Justice Gardens program with two boxes of seeds, which supported their 19 locations across the state. Offenders in the correctional centers work in the gardens and then donate the produce to local food banks, shelters, and schools. As the pandemic began, some of the food banks these gardens support saw 40% increases in new clients seeking food relief. With these seeds the gardens can increase their produce donations at a time when food resources are greatly needed.
One church who received seeds was not able to proceed with their community garden as originally planned but distributed the seeds among their congregation and encouraged home gardening during quarantine. This helped fill a gap for young adults who live alone and are under or unemployed during this time. One member of a Master Gardner group has a greenhouse with many vegetable plants started and awaiting the perfect conditions to be moved outside. The produce from these plants will also be shared with local food banks.
While we are adjusting to new ways of life and processing the different emotions involved with this experience, hope is growing. In peoples’ backyards, on their porches, in green houses, and in correctional facilities. Food is a basic need and without it comes fear and anxiety. It is a blessing to know that what started out as a typical ministry has grown into something that will fill a gap during this extraordinary time. We are thankful for the ways in which God uses our gifts and the talent of gardeners across Missouri to grow hope and security.