FORT MILL TOWNSHIP — It took years to pay for, but just after Tega Cay Baptist Church took ownership of 13 acres along Gold Hill Road, it celebrated by planting seeds of goodwill.
The church, situated a short distance away on the same main road – but across Highway 160 West near Tega Cay city limits – will likely one day construct a new sanctuary on its recently acquired land. In the meantime, members are cultivating a community garden, and like the name implies, everyone is invited to participate.
In exchange for a $20 annual fee and a few hours helping with group work projects, community garden participants get a portion of the 3/4-acre garden to grow the vegetable or fruit of their choice. Some space will be set aside to grow food that could be donated to local distribution programs.
The idea came from church member Lisa Daubenspeck who, along with her husband, Mark, owns the Breadsmith shop in Fort Mill. She caught the gardening bug last year while on the York County Ag + Art Tour. But like many people, she doesn’t have the space for it at home.
“I live in a house with a little tiny yard that’s shaded. And after I became interested in gardening myself, I actually started going down to York to garden at a friend’s house – but that’s a long way to travel. It was fun, and I wanted to figure out a way to work it here,” Daubenspeck said.
“Our church has a piece of land that’s not being used, so I mentioned it to a bunch of people, and they seemed really enthusiastic about it – one of them being my husband. So a lot of people came together to make it happen.”
The first major project completed was getting a well at the site operation. So far, one large section of the garden has been prepared and is ready for planting. Daubenspeck and some others also have germinated seeds and are raising seedlings on their windowsills. But a raised garden bed or two are part of the plan as well. Now all they need are other people.
“It’s an opportunity for people to have an individual plot. You plant it, tend it, work in the garden, and then you get to take stuff,” Daubenspeck said.
Joe Jenkins, another church member helping with project, said one reason he likes the idea is that he’s noticed all the new apartment and townhouse complexes popping up around town.
“There are a lot of people in those communities who are landlocked, so to speak, and don’t have the opportunity to produce things,” he said.
Daubenspeck said she’s met more than a few people in her bakery who admit to being lonely. She hopes the garden draws those craving company, too, as well as fresh food and the experience of growing it.
“I’ve had people tell me flat out ‘I live alone, and I’m lonely,’ ” she said. “People tend to be disconnected these days.”
In regards to providing food for those in need, Daubenspeck said that could mean more than helping someone get through the day. For some people stuck in a cycle of poverty and/or homelessness, equal doses of encouragement, work and the confidence that comes with accomplishment could be just the boost they need to get back on a path to the mainstream, she said.
“That’s something we hope to tie into all this,” Daubenspeck said.
“It’s not just handing people food. It’s helping people change the situation they’re in. At the end of the summer, I’d love to be able to say one person who was getting food or money handed to them now has an opportunity to work – and then they would have a way giving back.”
Above all, said to Brad Ferguson, pastor of Tega Cay Baptist, the church is counting on the garden to yield an abundance of fellowship. He said he was onboard with the idea as soon as he heard it.
“We all really immediately liked it,” he said.
“We were looking and praying for a way to use the land there for a ministry to meet peoples’ needs, and this is a good fit. It’s a good way to meet a real(ly) practical need in the community and build relationships.”
The garden is available to anyone regardless of different, or no, religious affiliation.
“We don’t have a prerequisite that to get a spot in the garden, you have to come to our church,” church member Jenkins said.
Although there are no strings attached, anyone offended by religion in general or Christianity in particular might want to look elsewhere.
“We’re a church who wants to reach out people and be good neighbors,” Ferguson said.
“We invite anybody, what other faiths they may be or however secular they may be, to join in. But we make no apologies for our faith and our love for our savior, Jesus Christ. All of it really points to sharing the love of Christ and to be able to show his light in the world.”
“From a standpoint of being sponsored by Tega Cay Baptist Church, this is an outreach to the community in general,” he said.
“From a Christian perspective, it’s about building relationships and sharing the love of Christ. But we’re also just providing an atmosphere, and if you want to come and just pull weeds and work in the garden, that’s OK, too.”
Michael Harrison • 803-547-2353