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TEXAS: Calvary Church and Dreyer's plant community fruit orchard

[Episcopal News Service] With the help of many from the community, Calvary Episcopal Church in Richmond planted a fruit orchard of 25 trees at their Growing in Grace Community Gardens on Oct. 26. In July, Calvary was awarded a fruit orchard from Dreyer's Fruit Bars after winning an online voting contest.

Twenty orchards in total were given to community gardens around the country through the Communities Take Root program. The Episcopal Diocese of Texas and Calvary used e-mail newsletters and social media to get the word out about the contest. Although Richmond was one of the smaller communities, they received the sixth-most votes.

In May 2009, Calvary consecrated the garden to serve the Richmond and Rosenberg communities by bringing people together in learning and practicing a healthier lifestyle through growing fruits and vegetables. Since then, the garden has produced more than 3,000 pounds of vegetables, donating 1,500 pounds to the local women's shelter and Helping Hands, a local food pantry.

"Three years ago I knew this place could grow weeds, but I wasn't sure what else it could grow," said Anne Ondrusek, director of the gardens. "But now we donate produce to just about anyone that wants it, and this could not have happened without this community. This is not just a Calvary Episcopal project. This belongs to Fort Bend County; it belongs to God, and we are his stewards."

The garden is a half-acre of raised beds with drip irrigation, including table beds for the physically challenged. Children from area schools visit the gardens to learn about soil, composting, irrigation and other ecological information, logging more than 1200 hours of service time as "Master Junior Gardeners."

A crowd of 75 people gathered to help plant the new fruit trees including Richmond's 91-year-old Mayor, Hilmar Moore, Rosenberg's Mayor Vincent Morales, two city commissioners and the Richmond Police Chief, Bill Whitworth.

"My wheels are turning in my head," Morales said as he visited the gardens for the first time. New ideas spread amongst the crowd about how the space and new orchard could be used and improved.

The Rev. Paul Wehner, rector of Calvary, offered a blessing of the planting. "Bless this garden and orchard, that it will provide food for those in need, be a place of learning for those who work here, and be a constant reminder to all of your unfailing mercy and grace; through Jesus Christ our Lord."

Then, led by Rico Montenegro of the Fruit Tree Planting Foundation, community members planted 25 trees including lemon, orange, apple, satsuma and plum trees.

In the future, Ondrusek plans to teach the community how to can the produce in order to preserve it. There has been a slight struggle to get adults from around the community to get involved, but Ondrusek plans to stay focused on teaching children about gardening.

"If you can't get the adults, you go for the kids," she said. "That's one of the reasons why we have so many kids out here because the kids are going to be the ones that put the pressure on mom and dad."

The Growing in Grace Community Gardens are always open, and currently have available beds for planting. Opportunities to become a part of the community garden include growing vegetables, volunteering on workdays or becoming a "Friend of the Gardens." For more information, call Calvary Episcopal Church at 281-342-2147.

-- Luke Blount is staff writer & communications specialist for the Episcopal Diocese of Texas.

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