By Marianne Fitzkee
The Harrisburg (Pa) First congregation has been tending to their community garden for about five years now, thanks to the original initiative of former pastor Belita Mitchell. The current garden coordinator, Waneta Benson, cites this year as the best year yet! She came to Harrisburg First as the church’s second Brethren Volunteer Service (BVS) worker and has been serving faithfully ever since through developing the children’s ministry, playing organ for worship, and now spearheading the gardening effort along with her son–a role she’s very qualified for, having lived around gardens for 80-plus years.
The garden, which can be found tucked behind a garage in the church’s back parking lot, is home to six raised beds growing tomatoes, greens, cauliflower, peppers, herbs, berries, and more. This year, the gardeners–mostly church members who live in the surrounding Allison Hill community–will enjoy their harvest with their families. Pre-COVID, the church had hosted a baked potato dinner using their own potatoes to share the bounty.
In addition to the raised beds, there also is a bench with some decorative flower boxes located in the garden, where people can relax and soak up the scenery. “Grandma Waneta,” as she is called by some of this year’s gardeners, loves to see children get involved with the garden and notes how community gardens are a great way to utilize vacant lots to create green space in the city.
In future years, she hopes to relinquish some responsibility for the garden but looks forward to seeing how it continues to evolve. Future projects may include painting a mural on a wall adjacent to the garden or growing vines and flowers on the surrounding fence to add beauty and attract pollinators. Along with fruits and vegetables, this garden cultivates relationships, peace, and love in Allison Hill–that will surely continue to grow.
— Marianne Fitzkee just completed a summer internship with Harrisburg First Church of the Brethren.