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Our garden is located in the Village of New Era. We organized in 2015 as an outreach ministry of the New Era Christian Reformed Church. We fill a need in our community supplying a place to grow fresh vegetables. Members are residents that do not have the space, tools, ability or time to garden at home. .

We named our garden “I am the Vine, you are the Branches.” We began by developing our mission and planned how the garden would operate. Members rent a garden bed (or two) for $10. We prepare the beds for planting every year by rototilling and enhancing the soil with organic materials. All the tools needed to garden are located on site. We have scheduled group work sessions or the garden is open 24/7 to members. We have a garden shed that was graciously donated. Our shed houses all the hoes, shovels, rakes and hand tools. Pre-COVID we had educational presentations at the garden for members on subjects like square foot gardening, making seed tapes and a field trip to visit a nearby orchard of grafted trees to learn grafting techniques. We have had potlucks at the garden with members sharing dishes and recipes made with produce from the garden. Our four benches are convertible into two picnic tables. We hope to resume these activities in 2021.

We purchased a produce scale to weigh vegetables to keep track of the harvests from year to year. Seeds are purchased and donated to the Community Garden. The first year we built six raised beds using recycled playground edging that was sourced from the playground at the closed Benona Elementary School and it was free. The beds are 6-by-12 foot rectangles. The 12 inch height of the beds work great, we are able to sit on the edge of them to weed and harvest.

Weesies Center graciously donates two flats of vegetable and herb plants every year to the garden. We have 12 blueberry bushes and four rhubarb plants. Our garden grows the biggest and best vegetables, it is like our beds contain miracle soil. We have a garden tractor scoot that allows you to sit and garden and haul tools to your bed.

Demand for beds at the garden has required three expansions so far. We are up to a total of 14 raised beds. Expansions and garden improvements were made possible by grants from a private donor, the Great Lakes Energy People Fund and Community Foundation of Oceana county.

Produce from the Community Garden may not be sold. We share our bounty of vegetables with our community, on Sunday’s with church members, the rest of the week with Love INC or the Ladder Community Center both in Shelby.

In 2020, we completed bringing the water line into the garden and added an automatic sprinkler system with 12 heads on two separate zones. This has been a gradual process that began in 2016 with the water line being extended 600 feet from the church. We had 15 members last year and harvested 253.65 pounds of vegetables.

We are looking forward to a productive gardening season in 2021. All Community Garden members from last year have returned. Projects are to do weed control between the raised beds and organize the tools and supplies in the garden shed.

It is our desire as a group to grow not only vegetables to share with our community, but to also grow in so many other ways as well — such as knowledge of gardening, building new friends and relationships while enjoying digging in the dirt.