Northern Berks Community Garden in Perry Twp. assists food pantries in Berks County

Volunteers take care of the Northern Berks Community Garden in Perry Twp. Submitted photo

At Zion’s Evangelical Lutheran Church in Perry Township, a new ministry is growing. This past spring the church converted a 75’ x 100’ patch of its property into the Northern Berks Community Garden (NBCG). The NBCG is a nonprofit organization that was started in order to assist low and moderate income members of the community acquire healthy, locally grown produce through the local food pantry system. Although there is always a demand for fresh produce at these pantries, there is no consistent source to provide it. The NBCG is working to change that by growing and donating vegetables such as cucumbers, yellow squash, cabbage, beans, peppers, beets, lettuce, tomatoes, onions and more to the food pantries that serve the communities of Northern Berks County.

To date, the garden has produced and donated a combined total of 3,205 pounds of produce to the Northern Berks Food Pantry, Seventh Day Adventist Food Pantry, Schuylkill Valley Food Pantry, Bethel-Tulpehocken Food Pantry, Friend Inc., and Greater Berks Food Bank. Nancy Dusko, a Garden Committee member and volunteer, reflected on her experience by saying, “Through my help at the garden, I have learned the true importance of our local food bank system. Through scheduling our produce deliveries, we have learned how many families are supported by each food bank on a regular basis. There is a real need in our community, and the food banks are doing amazing work.”

The idea to create a community garden at Zion’s came from their Interim Minister, Reverend Dr. Dennis Ritter. Pastor Ritter felt that “Zion’s is blessed with many resources/assets to do a project like this – broad agricultural knowledge, a willingness to serve their Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, a compassion for those who are struggling in life, a good well, and land that was sitting idle.” After running the idea by Zion’s Congregational Council and receiving a green light for the project, Pastor Ritter, “began to let it be known…that there was a possibility of a community garden ministry developing at Zion’s. Quickly, the pastors of the Hamburg Ministerium and some members of the congregation expressed interest in being a part of such an endeavor.”

A committee was formed to oversee the creation and operation of the fledgling garden, and as word spread about the project, support and volunteer involvement soared. Nancy said, “My favorite thing about the garden is that it is a service activity that I can have my children (ages 1 and 3) participate with. Our working sessions often include a wide range of ages, from children and youth, to seniors and everyone else in between. It has become a real community project.” In fact, the community has been instrumental in both the creation and sustainability of the garden.

Though most of the volunteers who work in the garden are members of Zion’s Lutheran Church, there has also been a considerable amount of community support. Since no produce from the garden is ever sold, the garden is entirely reliant on designated gifts to the ministry from both individuals and community organizations (i.e. churches, service clubs, etc.), as well as in-kind gifts of needed materials (i.e. fencing, plants, seeds, tools, etc.). Pastor Ritter remarked that, “Those of us who have been involved with the garden from its inception are constantly amazed at the outpouring of support and encouragement for the ministry. So many wonderful and generous people have pitched in to make what was only a dream last fall into an abundant reality this summer.”

Anyone who would like to support the Northern Berks Community Garden is welcome to volunteer at the work days that are held every Monday morning and Thursday evening. Volunteers will be able to participate in tasks such as planting, staking, weeding, watering, and harvesting. If you are interested in helping, you can email churchoffice@zionslutheran.org or leave a message for Lori, the garden’s volunteer coordinator, at 610-562-3244. Also, the garden has a continuing need for garden tools, including garden trowels, spades, tall metal stakes, scissors, a metal rake, hoe, wheelbarrow, stepladder, etc. Any donations are greatly appreciated.