Poor Soil Becomes Thriving Garden at Eighth Street Mennonite Church


  • Janie Beck Kreider

“We didn’t know if the ground would produce anything” reflects Leonard Wiebe about an empty plot of land that used to sit next to 8th Street Mennonite Church in Goshen, Indiana. “It surprised us.”

Two years ago, Wiebe’s teenage grandson Ben had a vision to start a community garden on the church’s front lawn. This grandfather-grandson duo became co-chairs on the church garden committee, along with two other members: Delores Bartel and Rachel Eisenhouer. Together, these four donated their time, money, and energy to transform a 20x30 plot of poor soil into a thriving garden producing over 600 pounds of fresh produce for local food pantries.

In the summer of 2011, the Wiebe’s donated all of the garden’s harvest--600 pounds of tomatoes, peppers, and cucumbers--to Harvest of Hope food pantry in Goshen.

This year, the second year into the project, the garden was already producing more than it had the previous year, even despite the serious drought they had experienced over the summer. This year the produce was split between the East Goshen Food Pantry and The Window, both located in Goshen. The East Goshen Food Pantry provides groceries for 20-40 families every Tuesday from 9-12, and The Window provides meals for 60- 90 people every weekday, as well as boxes of the Wiebes’ produce for pick-up.

When the Wiebes brought their idea to 8th Street Mennonite’s leadership, they were given permission and support so long as they promised to take care of the garden and not let it become an “eyesore.” While the church does not cover 100% of the financial cost for the garden, the land and water are provided, and additionally a convenient new water spigot was installed on the church building close to the garden. Leonard describes the garden committee members’ financial contributions to the project as “minimal,” because they grow the plants from seed in fellow committee member Delores Bartel’s husband’s pottery workshop, which doubles as their greenhouse.

Between the four committee members, all the work of the garden is taken care of: from raising seedlings to planting, from weeding to harvesting. The biggest challenge they overcame was when they were first starting out. A house once stood on the empty lot, and the soil was rocky and poor after its demolition. “The weeds wouldn’t even grow here,” the Wiebe’s remember, “God made it grow.”