Turns out, there is such a thing as a free lunch. Really...It’s not a trick. There’s no hidden agenda. The freshly grown produce in the community garden of Union United Methodist Church is free and available to anyone who needs it each Saturday from 8 a.m. to 11 a.m.
Not only does the church, located at 4491 S.C. 701 South in Conway, give away its vegetables for free, its members even pick them and have them on display for visitors to shop and select from.
“It’s a community outreach from the church. Anyone who stops by can have it, and take what they need for the week,” said garden volunteer Doug Goodspeed. “It’s open for anybody. It’s an outreach we felt called to do.”
The freely given gift is intentional as part of the church’s mission to greater connect to the community it serves. It looks like it’s working. The church began the garden project this past year and provided food to about 25 to 30 people each Saturday.
“A lot of people came through who really, really needed it,” Goodspeed said.
The visitors not only receive the tangible gift of produce, they also walk away with some time well spent chatting with the Union folks helping hand over the harvest.
“They don’t just stop by and grab things and run,” Goodspeed said.
The upstate New York native and his wife Kathy came to the area about 10 years ago. The past two of those have been spent worshipping at Union.
“We were blessed to find Union,” he said. “It’s a great group of people.”
Goodspeed was involved with the community garden project from the start because he loves growing things.
“I love gardening anyway,” he said. “Gardening is how I spend my therapy.”
The garden has been improved this year, with the addition of an electric fence to keep the deer away as well as a dedicated water well.
“We have our own water for the garden,” Goodspeed said. “We washed in a shallow well. The garden, I think, is going to be very bountiful this year.”
Along with getting to put his green thumb to good use, Goodspeed, also appreciates the value of helping those who need it.
“It’s just a great community outreach program,” he said. “It just really makes me feel good.”
Sachi Penuel, director of The Shepherd’s Table in Conway, also feels good about the garden. That’s especially true after the folks at Union delivered fresh vegetables to the community soup kitchen on two occasions this past week. Penuel noted the faces of those delivering the fresh squash and zucchini were smiling as well as generous.
“With local growers donating items like these, the nutritional value of the meals we offer is increased,” Penuel said, and, at the same time, giving those who donated “the opportunity to connect and be a part of the awesome thing we do here. It is an honor and compliment...when the blessings of our community pour into the lives of our guests.”
Along with fresh squash and zucchini, the garden also includes two kinds of potatoes, green beans, peppers, onions, tomatoes, cabbage, broccoli and okra.
“We tried to plant things people would want,” Goodspeed said.
All the seeds and plants that Union volunteers are nurturing were given by Walt Smith of Conway Feed & Garden.
“He’s been fantastic to Union and the garden,” Goodspeed said.
Smith also donated to the project this past year.
“They have been fantastic on everything they’ve given us for the garden,” said Terri Alford, another garden volunteer. “They just have a true heart for the garden, just like we do.”
Smith believes Union does much good through the garden and he is more than happy to help. He thinks the produce given away is very beneficial to many people who are struggling to pay bills and still put food on the table.
“This community has blessed us and we just felt that this was something we could give back to the community,” Smith said.
He also encourages others to do the same.
“After all, the community is no better than the people who live in it,” he said.
Union will continue to be open each Saturday until the produce runs out. This year, though, the gardeners are hoping to possibly get a second crop in.
“We’ll stay as long as there’s anything available,” Goodspeed said.