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Bethel, North Newton seek to grow community in new gardens

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NORTH NEWTON, KAN. – Less than six months ago, it was a field of grass and weeds on the east side of North Newton. Now it’s flowering into something new.

Members of the Bethel College, Bethel College Mennonite Church and North Newton communities gathered May 4 to formally open Sand Creek Community Gardens. Well before that, however, gardeners had been hard at work, as was evident from the sprouting vegetables and flowers already beginning to bloom.

Chad Childs, Bethel College vice president of student life, gave credit to retired Bethel professor of Bible and religion Duane Friesen as “the force behind this,” while also acknowledging “[all] the people who have come together to make the earth say ‘Beans’ and ‘Peas’ and ‘Tomatoes’ instead of “Bermuda grass’ and ‘dandelions.’”

“This has gone way beyond what we imagined last fall when we first plowed up eight plots in the rain,” Friesen said. “There are now 32 plots. There are 15 student gardeners and 26 others.”

The City of North Newton gave a $500 grant for start-up money and the Ethel Schmidt Memorial Fund at Bethel College paid to put in spigots and hoses and hook the garden up to North Newton city water. Student and faculty volunteers worked on Bethel’s Service Day April 14 to dig up beds for planting donated rosebushes and build a container system for mulch and composting. Other volunteers have started perennial beds, both flowers and asparagus, and a number of donated tools are available for use.

“We had our first meeting a little over a year ago,” Friesen said. “We had no name [for the garden] and no mission but it seems now to be flowering forth.” The purpose of Sand Creek Community Gardens, he added, is “to provide inviting and peaceful spaces for students and community members, to build a sense of community, [to enable] gardeners to learn from each other.”

The group gathered for the opening enjoyed several songs by freshmen students Maggie Goering and Allison Yoder and then planted the wildflower seed-laced doves that were in bookmarks handed out several weeks earlier to introduce Bethel College’s new tagline, “Seek. Serve. Grow.”

“The plot where you’re [planting] the wildflower seeds was chunky, hard ‘rocks,’” Friesen pointed out. “First it was too wet – then, when we plowed it, it turned rocky. But guess what two rains and application of some compost did?

“There’s a sense of reverence and mystery in a garden,” Friesen said. “You never know what might happen.”

Bethel College is a four-year liberal arts college affiliated with Mennonite Church USA. Founded in 1887, it is the oldest Mennonite college in North America. Bethel is known for its academic excellence and was the only Kansas private college to be ranked in’s listing of “America’s Best Colleges” for 2008 and one of only two Kansas colleges listed in Colleges of Distinction 2008-09. For more information, see the Bethel web site at

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