Church’s solar garden feeding hungry in Muncie

MUNCIE, Ind. - A local church has had a prosper summer in its vegetable garden. The College Avenue United Methodist Church's Mission Garden has grown more than 1,600 pounds of food, with the majority of it going to local organizations out to serve the hungry.

The garden is in its second year, already totaling more food than last summer.

Jim Kouns, a volunteer at the church, who is all part of the local master gardeners' club, said the garden last year produced close to 1,200 pounds.

A big part of this year's success is a recently installed solar power irrigation system. Four small panels sit on the side of a shed. The energy powers a pump, which pushes water from rain barrels through a hose to the plants.

Kouns said the panels came from a $2,000 grant through the United Methodist Foundation of Indiana.

"This year we have 1,649 and 2,000 is easily within reach," Kouns said.

He expects the total at the end of October, when the harvest is over, will be shy of 2,500 pounds. The garden has produced lettuce, spinach, sweet corn, tomatoes and several other vegetables.

The idea sprouted from a Sunday morning sermon.

"We’re kind of in a food desert," said Kouns. "For a while last year, we lost all our Marsh stores and the stores that remain aren’t accessible for people who don’t have automobiles."

That message put the congregation to work. Several teams split up to manage different areas of the garden.

The results, once ripe for the picking, go to people in need around town. Some of the food goes to a United Methodist sponsored homeless shelter, Covenant Partners Ministries, and to A Better Way, a home that houses victims of domestic violence.

The majority of the vegetables are donated to The Soup Kitchen of Muncie, which feeds close to 140 people each day.

"To know we are going to get 1,100 to 1,200 pounds of vegetables throughout the growing season is just very meaningful to us," said the soup kitchen's executive director, Loretta Parsons.

Parsons said last year after the grocery stores closed, the kitchen would see more than 200 people on some days. The totals have since started coming back down to normal.

Visitors at the soup kitchen receive a warm meal and a sack lunch to eat when they choose. Workers will also pass out produce when its available. Sometimes it buys it from Second Harvest Food Bank.

Other times, produce is donated by area farmers or others, such as the church's solar garden.