How to Have an Indoor Garden to Feed the Homeless

Date Posted: 12/12/2019

By Lindsay Peyton
FUMC Beaumont is literally reaping the fruits of its labor. The church started its First Fruits Initiative in August and has already harvested this indoor garden space twice, going beyond the needs of its soup kitchen Kairos Kitchen. Plans for expanding the program are in the works. In addition to providing a healthy bounty, the gardens cultivate discipleship and community.
Stephanie Denham, director of family ministries at FUMC, had a vision to turn the church into a garden. For a number of reasons, she felt that growing fresh produce in the building would be beneficial.
Even she, however, could not have imagined how successful the garden would become. “It’s bigger than what I anticipated,” she said.
Kairos Kitchen was in need of fresh fruits and vegetables, Denham explained. But, with the soup kitchen operating only once a month, donations often would rot before they could be used.

The idea of having a traditional community garden to stock the soup kitchen seemed too problematic, Denham added. “Because we’re downtown, we have very little greenspace,” she explained.
A garden would require land, as well as volunteers to till, grow, weed and harvest. “You can imagine the work and toil those vegetables would take,” Denham said.
Also, she said, an outdoor garden would have to withstand the weather. Beaumont has recently struggled with storms, floods and hurricanes.
The indoor space at FUMC Beaumont seemed like an ideal alternative, Denham said. She started researching hydroponic options. Most still took up too much room or required gallons of water.

Then, Denham discovered the Tower Garden, which follows aeroponics, an advanced form of hydroponics that makes use of air and mist and uses less water. The Tower Garden is a vertical system that does not require soil.
In addition, both the watering and the LED grow lights are set on a timer and run automatically. No daily care is required – meaning fewer volunteers would be needed.
Denham met a woman who had a Tower Garden in her kitchen – and enlisted her husband to join her on a fieldtrip to see it firsthand.
“It was so green, and she made us a salad right on the spot,” Denham said.
She was immediately convinced that this was the answer – and took the idea to her pastor, Rev. John Stouffer.
“This is a way we can supplement the ministry we’re already doing in the church,” she told him. “It’s something we can do practically that serves a need.”
He agreed. “Let’s go for it,” he said.
Denham ordered all of the gear she needed and started the garden in August, in 4 square feet of unused space. There are 28 holes in the tower that allow for plants to emerge. The church planted kale, lettuces, basil, peppermint, chard and mint.
“We’ve already had two full harvests off the tower and made 130 servings of salad,” Denham said.

Because the garden is vertical, older church members, who would struggle to work on the ground or be outdoors for too long, are now able to join in the harvest. The youngest church members have made checking on the plants part of their Sunday ritual, learning about growth cycles and gardening on their way to chapel.  
Church youth, who are actively involved in the outreach at Kairos Kitchen, are able to see what they grow end up on the plates of those in need.
Denham said that already the Garden Tower has proved its worth, providing the soup kitchen with the produce it needs. She has plans in the works to start a second tower to provide another community charity with vegetables as well.
She envisions eventually having 20 to 30 towers in the church, lighting up the dark spaces under stairs and in hallways, and providing year-round servings of produce to the community. Seasons, sunlight and weather will not prevent the church from providing vegetables to those in need.

Beaumont FUMC has started a sponsorship program to keep the effort going. Denham hopes to see this idea grow throughout the conference.
“This can be replicated by every single church,” she said. “Everybody has a closet; everybody has a corner. I’d like to see it everywhere.”

Denham imagines that congregations could feed their surrounding communities.
“It’s a little seed we’re planting to spark ideas and inspiration,” she said. “It’s a neat project, and you don’t need a lot of time, a lot of money or a lot of volunteers. You just need a willing heart ad a dark corner – and you can meet the needs of God’s children. That’s what it’s all about.”