After a long winter, the 7,000-square-foot garden plot behind Middle River Baptist Church will soon become a source of pride, and produce, for the community once again.
The church's Seeds of Grace Community Garden is part of the Baltimore County waterfront community's low-income area, and on Saturday was a magnet for volunteers from churches and schools, including a group from Towson University.
Church and community members have used the garden to grow produce that's donated to a food bank, and are now laying the foundation for a larger five-year project, installing irrigation and planting trees they hope will yield cherries, peaches, apples, pears and other fruit. The project also includes planting flowers.
"We're planting for posterity," said church member Chris Watson, 40, of Middle River, who is directing the project.
Watson approached church leaders two years ago about creating a garden in space that wasn't being used. At the same time, the church received a similar proposal from Barbara Maliszewski, 45, of Bowleys Quarters, then a student at Towson, who proposed the project to fulfill a community service requirement.
She had been working with a Middle River Baptist member on the idea, and so Watson and Maliszewski combined their efforts.
"This area is a food desert," said Watson, who said the garden employs "hugelkultur," a European approach that uses rotted wood to make raised garden beds. The wood, Watson said, is buried underground on a hill with compost, and as it decomposes it not only retains water but loads the soil with nutrients and minerals.
"Nature came up with the best way of growing stuff," Watson said. "You get the trees to fall, they decay, the leaves are there and it builds up the soil underneath."
Maliszewski said in addition to providing fresh produce to residents, the garden also helps county students fulfill their graduation requirement of 75 service learning hours. On Saturday, several school-age students took part, including Watson's daughter Emily, 14, who is such a fixture at the garden she had already tallied 72 service learning hours by midmorning.
"I come to out here to help out and get the project done so we can get the food out to people who need it," Emily said.
Maliszewski said local schools including Eastern Technical and Perry Hall high schools and Middle River Middle School have sent students to the project.
"There's not a lot of volunteer opportunities for students," said Maliszewski. "Most of the programs require that they be 18 and older. A lot of students try to get them done before they start the harder classes in high school."