Bethlehem Lutheran Church, Mesa, Ariz.
Master Gardener

After retiring, I decided to pursue my passion for gardening now that I had more free time. I began by signing up for classes at the University of Arizona agricultural extension in Phoenix and subsequently earned my Master Gardener certification. I thoroughly enjoy being outside and working with the soil. The good Lord has blessed me with the ability to grow food, and being a Master Gardener has greatly enhanced my gardening skills.

I wanted to participate in Harvest of Hope, a community garden ministry created at Bethlehem Lutheran Church, because my passion is gardening and I feel called to do this work. The Harvest of Hope garden consists of 22 raised garden boxes. Everything we grow is organic. My ability to grow food means we can deliver a larger harvest to the food bank where we donate the produce. We set up a tracking system to record the harvest and the water we use to produce that harvest. Every year the harvest has grown, while we’re still using the same 22 raised garden beds. In 2019 we delivered 2,127 pounds of fresh organic vegetables to the food bank.

People are surprised at just how beautiful the garden can be. There is something about sitting among growing plants that makes one feel closer to God. It is that way for me. And only God can grow a plant—we are just the custodians. I tell people that if they don’t believe in God’s power, you try making a tomato plant! How can anything as complicated as growing a plant look so easy?

Holding garden classes for the preschoolers at Noah’s Ark, our congregation’s preschool, is a team effort. Parishioners Jim and Ellie lead the classes, and the garden team lends a hand. Last month’s preschool lesson was about sowing seeds. One little guy looked up at me and said, “That’s the first thing I have ever planted!” We may be sowing the seeds of a future gardener. What a blessing these little ones are!

To me, grace means I will always be loved. I will be forgiven. I am worthy. The Lord has blessed me with his presence my entire life. I was always lucky. I once thought it was because a guardian angel was watching out for me, but I know the real reason is that God has been with me all along. His grace has given me a life worth living, a family that loves me, a congregation that makes me feel at home, a career that paid my way and, yes, a green thumb.

I tell people that if they don’t believe in God’s power, you try making a tomato plant!

I share my faith through this motto: “My garden is where my prayers are planted and my dreams are born.” I make this statement at the end of every email I write. I “see God” in the garden. I know that not everyone shares my passion for growing plants, but if they sat in the garden for a while and focused on what it takes to make a plant, they might be inclined to understand the passion that I have for gardening.

Sharing my love of gardening with a ministry that helps feed people is about being able to connect to everybody who comes in. We strive not to judge. I enjoy growing plants, especially vegetables. Feeding the less fortunate is a bonus and, more importantly, a blessing.

I pray that the vegetables we grow give sustenance to the hungry. The food that is given out at the food bank is not the healthiest menu available, so the addition of fresh organic vegetables makes for a better diet and can bring a little more happiness to the lives of those who visit.

I’m a Lutheran because I want to share my time and talent to do God’s work, and I appreciate being part of a warm and gracious fellowship. We are welcoming to all without judgment, although the “without judgment” part is something I’m still trying to master. I enjoy the fact that we have the freedom to have theological discussions. We enjoy the liturgy and the sharing of God’s word—and let’s not forget the potlucks!

Getting to work with a team of volunteers at the Harvest of Hope garden has been rewarding. It takes a team effort to make a community garden work. There are three of us who perform the majority of the responsibilities. All that we do is voluntary; there are no paid positions. Each of us brings a different talent to the garden. Between us, the garden is sowed, planted, watered, harvested and fertilized, and we keep the pests under control using organic substances.

I believe that gardening is something I was meant to pursue. I created my first garden in high school, and my parents allowed me to use most of the backyard of our south Phoenix home. I didn’t understand why my harvest got worse each season. I gave up on it after a couple of years, but I knew I really enjoyed gardening and wanted to get better. Now, with the education I have received as a certified Master Gardener, I understand how to sustain healthy soil, water properly, and keep insects and diseases under control.

Megan Brandsrud
Brandsrud is a content editor of Living Lutheran.

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