Bethel AME Church garden teaches kids about food, serves community

jwilliams@macon.comJune 21, 2013 

On the first official day of summer, campers in neon green T-shirts lined up in the morning sun, eager to learn about the rows of vegetables at their feet.

The 62 campers from Bethel’s Best Summer Academy got down to basics Friday in a community garden at Bethel AME Church for an up-close lesson about vegetables and where they come from.

“When you ask them where food comes from, they say ‘the grocery store,’ ” camp director Chante Roberts said.

Roberts said the goal of the church’s garden is promoting healthy eating in the community, and the camp tries to promote that among the campers, too. While the newly formed camp focuses on more mainstream academics, Roberts said children learned about nutrition and gardening as well.

Leroy Bundrage, one of the church trustees in charge of the garden, explained to campers how the 34 rows of vegetables are cared for. He taught them things like the need to keep butterflies away from collard greens and how they shouldn’t touch their eyes after harvesting hot peppers.

Bundrage kept the kids engaged by passing around yellow squash, which the younger campers examined with fascination, and holding up turnips and asking, “What are these roots?”

Someone incorrectly shouted out “rutabaga!”

“What I like to do is get them thinking,” Bundrage said.

Bundrage estimates the garden is about 5,300 square feet, but the modest-sized plot produced 1,800 pounds of food in the past two years. The food is distributed by volunteers to households in the community, mostly to senior citizens.

Camper Nya Williams said she thinks it’s great how the food is handed out in the neighborhood to people who need it. She said she would be interested in helping with the garden in the future.

The garden, the land for which was donated to the church by Macon Housing Authority, is in its third season. Stephanie Harris, a church member and camp leader, said this is the first summer a lot of youths have been involved with the garden.

Ali Roberts, a 13-year-old who attends church at Bethel AME, said he started working in the garden last year. He said he likes helping with tasks such as removing rocks from the soil and rotating the sprinklers so all the vegetables get water.

Howard Harris, a camper who helps harvest and distribute the food, said about the garden: “It’s pretty interesting. It’s lots of hard work, but it pays off in the end.”

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