Anathoth Community Garden nourishes the community and helps heal its wounds | Locavore Cooking | Indy Week
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Anathoth Community Garden nourishes the community and helps heal its wounds 

It is a mid-November morning, one of the coldest days yet this year in northern Orange County. Here on two acres of raised, bio-intensive garden beds, I'm bundled up alongside two 17-year-olds who are working off community service hours for various public mistakes and misdemeanors. We are cutting back asparagus stalks to mulch them with vegan compost and chopped leaves to put them to bed for the winter.

Down the hill of this garden, two friends, mothers of college students, work in the passive solar-powered greenhouse, replanting lettuces and spinach that have been harvested by garden members and volunteers. They chat, heads bent, working the seedlings out of plugs in the dark, loamy soil, enjoying their weekly standing date at the garden.

click to enlarge Click for larger image • "Fred watering cover crop, Cedar Grove, North Carolina, 2007" Photo by Taj Forer, from The Garden, a series of photographs and audio recordings depicting life and growth at Anathoth Community Garden. Project supported by the Contemporary Art Museum, Raleigh, N.C. For more, visit cam.ncsu.edu.
  • Click for larger image • "Fred watering cover crop, Cedar Grove, North Carolina, 2007" Photo by Taj Forer, from The Garden, a series of photographs and audio recordings depicting life and growth at Anathoth Community Garden. Project supported by the Contemporary Art Museum, Raleigh, N.C. For more, visit cam.ncsu.edu.

Anathoth Community Garden, a biblical reference to Jeremiah's exhortation to the Israelites to "plant gardens and seek their shalom," is an experiment in Methodist church-supported organic agriculture and a symbol of peace-building among the diverse populations who live in Cedar Grove, N.C., where the garden is located. The garden is an effort to address, through community members working the land side by side and eating the fruits of their labor together, "the economic injustices that lay behind racial tensions," says Cedar Grove United Methodist Church Pastor Grace Hackney. The longtime farming community of Cedar Grove is populated by middle-class blacks, whites and Latinos, and the poor of all descriptions.

"We have the land," says Hackney, "yet [around us] the poor are hungry ... why not share the produce of a garden with those who need it?"

Along with other garden members, Hackney weekly delivers bounty within the community to those who do not have enough to eat and to elderly members who cannot get out and about—some without indoor plumbing or electricity.

The garden started after the 2004 murder of Bill King, a white man who, with his African-American wife, Emma, ran a small bait-and-tackle general store on the corner of Mill Creek and Carr Store Road, less than half a mile from where the garden now stands.

As garden manager Fred Bahnson has written elsewhere, the store used to be a meet-up spot for local crack dealers, who were asked to leave as soon as King and his wife took over. Soon the store became a neighborhood spot where families would go for ice cream and to pick up a few groceries, and kids would rendezvous on bikes. Late on a hot June day, King was closing up shop when someone walked in and shot him dead. Shock and anger swept through the community, and to make a long story very short, following a prayer-for-peace vigil led by Hackney in response to the collective grief, local resident Scenobia Taylor donated the five acres where Anathoth flourishes today.

Anathoth is a serious endeavor with a vision for the future. Overseen by Bahnson, it is kept impressively cultivated and productive by a host of members (averaging 30 folks on summer Saturdays) who pay a small membership fee and volunteer two hours a week, in addition to young people with community service hours to fulfill. With the rising awareness and importance of our food's origins and how close to home it is grown, garden organizers seek to have a voice in encouraging responsible foodways, as well as building bridges between race and class. The Methodist church and Anathoth even hosted a tomato canning class in the church kitchen last summer. The food is grown without chemicals or fossil fuels to speak of, boasting a solar-powered well and electric fence to discourage deer. The work is done with hand tools by a collection of people lending elbow grease—and getting lots of benefits in return.

Lively, witty Doris Long, the only African-American member of Cedar Grove Methodist, has traded her fried food habits for a diet of the Anathoth vegetables she helps plant and harvest. She has lost more than 75 pounds, with plans to lose another 100, as a result of the change.

Jose and Villa Rangel and their children moved to North Carolina from California three years ago looking for a better, "more affordable life." They became garden members to make friends, access fresh produce, improve their English and enjoy working the land. Son Joseph, a 10th-grader, says his favorite part is watermelon each summer; younger brother Rafael likes eating at the potlucks two days a week March through November.

On the Saturday before Thanksgiving, I sit with Hackney at the potluck lunch following the morning's work. Tables are moved into the sun to offset the mid-30s frostiness. Hackney assures me she could tell stories all day about the healing in this one-stoplight town, and the garden as a gathering place and setting for it. She talks about the role people of faith should be playing in protecting our local food economy and national food security (see italicized text below for details).

The following evening, as part of the same community outreach effort that birthed the garden, Cedar Grove's African-American Baptist congregation worships with its Methodists and Presbyterians, and everyone sits down to a local pulled-pork and turkey dinner afterward.

We sing classic British and American hymns alternately with call-and-response choral spirituals clearly reflective of jazz. It is a good way to ring in the season of peace on earth and goodwill toward all.

Find more about food for the hungry and community gardens at www.cometothetablenc.org; there's a link to Piedmont Interfaith Network of Gardens. For general info, visit the American Community Gardening Association's site at communitygarden.org.

Anathoth Carrot and Lentil Soup

I first had a version of this soup called "Lentils Monastery Style" made from a recipe given to me by a neighbor on a piece of notepaper. New York Times health and nutrition writer Jane Brody has a version of it in her Jane Brody's Good Food Book called "My Favorite Lentil Soup." And no wonder. If you've never been wowed by lentils but you know you should like them because they are so good for you (in addition to being a high protein, low-glycemic legume), you're in for a treat. These are gently poached, hold their texture and fill us with the herb-like comforting warmth of chicken soup. Made with sweet, tender carrots harvested from Anathoth, even my lentil-hating household ate this with relish. This is special enough for a Christmas Eve lunch or supper, accompanied by artisan cheeses and good bread.

1/4 cup olive oil
1 cup diced onions or leeks
2 cups thinly sliced (1/8-inch wide) carrots
1 teaspoon each dried thyme and marjoram (more if using fresh)
3 cups chicken or vegetable stock (preferably homemade)
1 quart tomatoes with juice, chopped if whole
1 cup dried lentils, washed
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
1/4 cup fresh parsley
1/4 cup dry sherry or dry white wine

Sauté onions or leeks with carrots in the olive oil, over medium-low heat, until tender. Onions will be translucent. Add thyme and marjoram and sauté two more minutes. Add stock and tomatoes and bring to a boil. Add lentils, return to a boil and simmer 45 to 60 minutes or until tender, but still holding shape. Just before serving, add salt, pepper and sherry, heating through. Serves four generously; leftovers reheat well.


Sweet Potato Pie

The late Bill Neal, one of the Triangle's most beloved cookbook authors and restaurateurs, tells in his book Biscuits, Spoonbread and Sweet Potato Pie of the days in merry old England when even concern over the "apocryphal belief in the sweet potato's aphrodisiacal gifts did not hinder its consumption." Neal also claims that a sweet potato pie "with its spices and sherry would be at home on Henry VIII's royal [side] board." Ours varies from Neal's in several measurements, particularly: no separated eggs and whipped egg whites; we used Marsala instead of sherry; and we doubled the cinnamon. We used Anathoth sweet potatoes (Beauregard variety), and I think that accounts for the extra-velvety texture and rich, but not too sweet, flavor. The finished product differs enough from pumpkin pie that it can be served alongside one at a holiday gathering. And if you haven't had time to roast a pumpkin for pie, this is an alternative in keeping with our locavore priorities.

1 9-inch pie shell (we used whole wheat, which made it nutty)
2 cups cooked, mashed sweet potatoes
2 tablespoons molasses
3/4 cup turbinado sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/2 cup half-and-half
3 medium to large eggs (or two jumbo)
1/4 cup Marsala
Whipped cream for garnish

Mix all of the filling ingredients in a food processor for two minutes or until well blended. The sugar should dissolve. Pour mixture into pie shell, and bake at 375 degrees for 45 minutes or until brown on top and set in the middle.

  • Recipes: Carrot and Lentil Soup, Sweet Potato Pie

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