FBC Montgomery’s ‘Master’s Garden’ meets food needs in Chisholm neighborhood

FBC Montgomery’s ‘Master’s Garden’ meets food needs in Chisholm neighborhood

A “food desert” — that’s the label the Chisholm neighborhood carried when volunteers from First Baptist Church, Montgomery, planted the first seeds in a vacant lot there several years ago.

“Being a food desert meant a large portion of the residents lived out of walking distance of a store where they could buy healthy food,” said Rhonda Thompson, director of the Nehemiah Center.
And for her and others at First Baptist, Montgomery, that just wasn’t OK.

‘Relationship ministry’

The goal of the Nehemiah Center — an arm of the church’s Community Ministries — was to meet human needs in Chisholm in the name of Jesus. Some of that took place through mentoring, job training, kids’ clubs and English as a Second Language classes.

“We’re a relationship ministry,” Thompson said. “We have been and always will be in it for the long haul. We want to meet human needs and build relationships.”

And as they assessed needs, one of the area’s biggest felt needs was food.

So the Master’s Garden was planted, a 2.5-acre plot of land that breathes life into the community. It has produced 6,000 pounds of produce to be shared with those who need it in addition to what’s harvested from the 66 10-foot-by-12-foot plots that Chisholm residents plant and tend.

“It has given an oasis there in Chisholm,” said Robin Caddell, who serves as volunteer master gardener. “The gardeners come out, they’ll picnic and their children will play on the playground. They watch out for each other’s plots. It’s created community.”

Thompson said that’s her favorite part.

“The best part of the garden is the community,” she said. “We’ve got people who are coming together, working side by side.”

That’s no small feat in an area where racial tensions run high, she said. In the area, which also is riddled with drug houses, residents tend to clash.

But at the Master’s Garden — where around a dozen nationalities tend plots — people get along.

“It’s been a way to integrate people in the community, a place where they can come and feel wanted,” Thompson said.

And Caddell said it’s ever growing.

“Last year we had 47 residents apply for plots and this year we have 66,” she said. “It’s truly caught on in the community.”

In recent months, they planted 1,500 commercial strawberry plants and invited nearby elementary school classes for field trips to pick fruit. Back in the fall, they planted pumpkins and hosted similar trips.

And at certain times each year, volunteers host Vacation Bible School for area children there at the garden.

Tim Cearley, minister of programs for First, Montgomery’s Community Ministries, said for him the impact on the children — and the impact on the world through the different cultures represented — is what it’s all about.

“That’s the heart of it for me,” he said. “One of the children who was there for one of the events a few weeks ago looked around and said, ‘This is heaven. This is heaven for me.’”

That’s what all the volunteers hope — that it will be a place for the neighborhood to find real peace.

“It’s a blessing to be out there and see God producing things as we do our part,” Cearley said. “It’s amazing.”


For years, a woman in Texas had her eye on a piece of property in Shelby County.

And for years, the staff of Shelby Baptist Association had been praying about starting a garden that could provide fresh food for the community.

Neither knew God had something special in mind, said Keith Brown, church and community ministries director for Shelby Association.

“It was a 38-acre farm that was her old home place, and she had asked if the property came up for sale if she could be one of the first ones to make an offer on it,” Brown said.

It did. She made her offer and quickly felt God telling her to do something specific.

“She told her realtor that she wanted to set aside a part of it for a garden for the community,” Brown said.

That realtor was a member of First Baptist Church, Harpersville, and he suggested she contact Shelby Association.

“It was an answer to years of prayer for us,” Brown said.

Extensive research

And with that, the association got busy preparing the two-acre plot for use. A Shelby Association intern who had studied financial planning did extensive research on the best way to leverage the garden.

“He did a really impressive six-page report with a proposed diagram for how to lay it out,” Brown said.

They decided elevated grow beds would be the best way to use the space — and the easiest layout for volunteers to maintain.

And in the process they also realized they would need about $5,000 to build it out.

But Hugh Richardson, Shelby Association director of missions, said God had that covered too.

Funding in place

“Recently Keith sat down with the lady donating the property, and as they were talking about the details, she said, ‘The Lord told me I needed to give you $5,000 toward this too,’” Richardson said.

Now they had the place, the funding and the manpower.

This July student teams participating in a local service week called Unite will work to build the beds and start planting.

The produce that comes from the garden will be a “positive enhancement” to the work of the association’s food ministry, Richardson said.

“It will provide us with fresh vegetables for those who come to us for help in our daily bread shop,” he said. “We have a lot of bread-type products, but people need vegetables too.”

Brown agreed. “For those who are food insecure, this will help them have a well-balanced diet. We serve a lot of people across the county through our food pantry and mobile food pantry. This will help us do that in an even better way.”