Brighton church tends a garden to feed the hungry

Published on Chicago Tribune, By JON GUNNELLS, September 27, 2009.

BRIGHTON, Mich. – The summer harvest brought in by St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in downtown Brighton goes well beyond picking cucumbers from the vine.

What started as an idea for a small garden in front of the church has turned into an incredibly successful organic garden. In one summer, the church garden, which sits on a 25-acre plot at the Emerich Retreat Center in Hamburg Township, harvested 1,700 pounds of produce for Gleaners Community Food Bank.

“One of the goals of the (Episcopal) Diocese of Michigan is to eradicate hunger and promote healthy eating,” the Rev. Deon Johnson of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church said. “Literally, I said, I want a small garden to start,” he joked.  

What was supposed to be a small garden is having a major impact on the community …
… Plans for expansion, selling produce at the Brighton Farmers’ Market and hiring a full-time staff are in the works for the farm. DeBruhl and Johnson even joked about bringing in some chickens, goats and even sheep.

“We are always going to give a large portion to Gleaners,” DeBruhl said. “But we want it to be sustainable and provide employment. There’s room for a huge expansion if we can make it work.”

DeBruhl knows exactly how to make it work.

She recently applied to the Michigan State University Organic Farming Exchange, a nine-month training and certification program, to help her learn more about farm management and organic farming techniques.

Before this summer, DeBruhl had never grown anything bigger than a small backyard garden. Organic farming was an afterthought. But after being laid off recently, it may have become a blessing in disguise.

“This has been the most fulfilling summer of my life,” DeBruhl said. “I now know what I want to do when I grow up.”

As for the church, its motto – “joyfully growing, giving and serving” – couldn’t be any more fitting.

Said Johnson: “You never know what you can do with a dream.” (full text).

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