The Williamsport Salvation Army’s Red Shield Community Garden is a unique ministry that is on its way to becoming the largest community garden in Pennsylvania.
“Williamsport is not really a big city, but it’s not quite a rural town either,” says Major Donald Spencer, corps officer at the Williamsport Salvation Army Corps. “A garden like this is an outreach to people who may not be able to have a garden themselves.”
Says Major Paula Spencer, “It would be difficult to replicate this type of garden ministry in every corps. You won’t always have the land, the space, and the people with experience to help it succeed.”
The Red Shield Community Garden, less than a mile away from the Williamsport Corps, is about three–fourths of an acre. It hosts 20 raised beds and plots tended by individual owners. Various community agencies also own plots. They grow produce, flowers, and experimental crops.
This year, owners harvested a thousand pounds of food from the garden. That number is expected to double by the end of 2018. The Williamsport Corps gives vegetables to local food banks and pantries. Anyone who uses a plot receives guidance from members of the Penn State Master Gardeners who help develop and maintain the garden.
Major Paula hopes that they can someday start a program on healthy eating at Williamsport and show people how the food they eat can also come from the ground, rather than from a can or a box.
“We’re looking forward to teaching the next generation about preparing meals with vegetables from our garden, and breaking the chain of unhealthy eating,” says Major Paula.
“There’s pride in being part of a garden,” says Major Donald. “When you help something grow, and use it to feed yourself or others, you feel a sense of value in yourself. Even just standing in a garden, you feel a deep connection with God. Nature has a way of bringing us closer to Him.”
The Red Shield Community Garden has also been a way to bring souls to The Salvation Army. For many of them, the garden is their only connection to church.
“There are many people in Williamsport whose first memory of The Salvation Army is coming to play basketball in the corps gym. That’s how they remember us; they mention that when they walk through our doors.
“The Red Shield Garden is that same type of ministry,” says Major Donald. “Twenty years from now, we may have volunteers return to serve with us again and tell us they used to tend vegetables in our community garden.”
by Hugo Bravo
Grow Your Own Vegetable Garden
Here are tips for growing your own vegetable garden, whether it’s for your local Salvation Army corps, or in your own backyard.
- Choose your location carefully. Most vegetables need at least six hours of direct sunlight every day, so make sure your garden is in a sunny place. Avoid areas that might easily flood, dry out, or where strong winds can knock over young plants and keep pollinators away.
- Use good soil. Roots can grow and penetrate easier in soft dirt. Use compost on your soil to provide it with important nutrients.
- Think in rows. After deciding how much space you have for your garden, plant your vegetables in rows. Also, run them north and south. This will help your crops get as much sun as possible.
- Start small. Unless you’re an experienced gardener, planting too much too soon can be overwhelming. Some vegetables, such as beans, carrots, lettuce, and spinach, may even yield more than one crop per season.
- Read your seed packet instructions. They will usually include useful information, such as the best times of the year to plant certain vegetables, and how much space you should set aside for each crop.
- Water properly. It may take time to learn how to avoid watering too much or too little, but maintaining a delicate balance will give your garden the best results.
- Consider adding companion plants, such as marigolds. They have been known to help keep pests such as beetles and nematodes (roundworms) away from your vegetables.