Wisconsin church’s garden gives produce, sense of community

Friday, October 5, 2018

EAU CLAIRE, Wis. (AP) — When Bilhenry Walker first saw the property surrounding First Presbyterian Church a little more than two years ago, he said, “There needs to be a garden here,” recalled his wife, Kathryn Reid Walker, pastor of the Eau Claire church.

But it would take some time for the idea to sprout after the couple first planted the seed, and it did this spring when a garden was planted east of the church.

So far, about 250 pounds of produce, including eggplant, tomatoes and zucchini, have been donated to area food pantries from the plot.

While the garden has allowed the congregation to help feed hungry neighbors, the produce also has fed the congregation in more ways than one, Reid Walker told the Leader-Telegram .

Her husband agreed.

“It’s really not about just planting a bunch of veggies,” said Bilhenry Walker, a sculptor. “It’s about cementing a congregation — from the (young ones) to the old ones — together.”

For many years, First Presbyterian Church has been involved in hunger efforts in the area. However, people in the Chippewa Valley still are food insecure.

In Wisconsin, 609,360 people are struggling with hunger, according to Feeding America, which aims to feed the country’s hungry through a nationwide network of member food banks. Of those, 205,660 are children.

Realizing the need for fresh produce for people who are food insecure, First Presbyterian Church expanded its mission — with the approval of the church governing body — by building a garden in front of the church.

“There are people in need, and we are happy to help them,” said Bilhenry Walker, who wanted the garden where it is, so people would see what was happening at the church.

“It’s another example for everybody, including churches, of what can be done to help,” he said.

The JONAH (Joining Our Neighbors Advancing Hope) Core Team at First Presbyterian, of which Bilhenry Walker is a member, agreed to take on the responsibility of planning and executing the design, followed by the planting, watering and weeding.