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Potluck reaps local harvest, including first from community gardens

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NORTH NEWTON, KAN. – Sand Creek Community Gardens, a joint project of Bethel College and Bethel College Mennonite Church (BCMC), added a new dimension to an annual event this year.

For the past several years, the church’s Creation Care Committee has hosted a late-summer Sunday noon potluck meal, asking church members to bring dishes made with local ingredients – those they grew themselves or bought from local sources such as Prairie Harvest Market & Deli in Newton or the Harvey County Farmers Market.

This year, community gardeners were invited to the Aug. 15 potluck, with attendance double that of previous years.

Erna and Richard Rempel, North Newton, were among the non-BCMCers who came. “Thanks to Duane [Friesen] and the [garden] committee for all the hard work,” Erna Rempel said. “We appreciated the water – and the raccoons haven’t found [this source of] sweet corn yet.”

North Newton resident Tim Hodge and his family also had a plot and also expressed their gratitude for the water from a system that grant money from the church and the City of North Newton helped fund. Gardeners divide the water bill among themselves.

“We were pleasantly surprised by the $3 water bill [for April and May],” Hodge said. “We put up 14 pints of beans and are picking tomatoes and peppers, with pumpkins coming now.”

Floyd Bartel, North Newton, Creation Care Committee chair, said, “Modern-day agriculture has freed us from the drudgery of raising our own food – but it has also disconnected us from the source of our food.” He noted people’s “growing interest” in returning to the practice of gardening.

That statement was borne out by the lively interest in Sand Creek Community Gardens, which is in its first-ever season, said Duane Friesen, a retired Bethel College professor, North Newton resident and BCMC member who has spearheaded the organization and implementation of a community garden.

“We started out [this spring] with enough ground cleared for eight plots,” he said. But because of the enthusiastic response, the final tally was 32 plots – and there’s space to expand for next year.

Bethel College maintenance staff used their equipment to plow the ground just south of the Warkentin Court residence hall parking lot. Bethel grounds manager John Wall offered all the leaf mulch gardeners could haul, as did the Kreider family of North Newton, which Friesen noted was a great help in keeping down the persistent crabgrass and other weeds that had established themselves in ground left unplowed for several years.

The gardens also provided an ongoing object lesson for BCMC’s summer intergenerational Sunday school class, which had a theme of “Growing in God’s garden,” said organizer Jeanette Leary. “We talked about planting, cultivating, exercising, harvesting and eating healthy food,” she said, using the gardens as a constantly developing illustration.

The class made pizzas with garden ingredients for the potluck as a “culmination of the summer’s lessons, when we share with others,” Leary said.

Friesen announced that enough money has now been raised for the materials to build a shed that will house the community tools, which were all donated. The tools sat out all summer, “and nothing disappeared,” Friesen said. “It showed a general respect for the community gardens that I appreciate.”

Local contractor Fred Bartel has volunteered his expertise to design the shed, and will direct its construction. Friesen said the committee seeks volunteers for some Saturdays in October to build it.

Friesen also mentioned the several dozen Bethel student, faculty and staff volunteers who last spring planted rosebushes donated by Neufeld Family Farms in California and built a container system for mulch, compost and trash.

“[Sand Creek Community Gardens] shows what can happen when a group of people come together,” Friesen concluded.

Bethel College is the only private, liberal arts college in Kansas listed in the 2010-11 analysis of top colleges and universities in the United States, and is in the first tier in its category in the U.S. News & World Report annual ranking of “America’s Top Colleges.” The four-year liberal arts college is affiliated with Mennonite Church USA. For more information, see

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