Church starts community garden for both locals and food bank

Published 8:00 am Wednesday, September 7, 2022

Mort Hoagland of Danville has had a busy summer helping care for a new community garden at Centenary United Methodist Church (CUMC).

The church’s new garden allows both church members and people from the community to claim a 10 by 10 foot plot to plant whatever food or flowers they want. Half of the garden is for those plots, and the other half is designated for donations to New Hope Food Pantry in Danville.

CUMC Associate Pastor John Duff said last year he had heard from some church members wanting a community garden. The church has about 20 acres of land on its property, most of which is open grass that needs to be mowed. Duff said the garden is a great way to utilize their land for something that can benefit the community.

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“Our hope for the garden is to use and care for our land, and allow folks who might not have land to be able to have a garden if they want to, to provide food for themselves and also to promote community,” Duff said.

The garden got started in the spring of this year at the direction of mainly church members. Duff explained that a church member and local farmer, Spencer Guinn, helped get the garden started with his farm equipment. Duff’s wife, Charlotte Abel, helped with planning and getting people involved.

The church had those who claimed a plot sign a contract that they would agree to take proper care of their plots all summer. Duff explained that people’s plots are right next to other plots, and if one person doesn’t weed their plot, it affects the ones next to it.

Duff said they had a few people who didn’t take care of their plots, and they had to send emails to people about tending to the weeds. One local person, Mort Hoagland, volunteered to help people care for their plots, in addition to local boy scouts and other volunteers.

“We’ve mainly had good participation, but we’ve got a couple people who really didn’t know what they were doing or what they were signing up for, so Mort’s been helping those folks, and we got the boy scouts to help,” Duff said.

Duff said the garden is about half church members and half community members. Over the summer people planted all kinds of vegetables and flowers, including okra, squash, basil, cucumbers, potatoes, thyme, oregano, tomatoes, peppers, green beans, sunflowers, pollinator flowers, and now they are growing summer lettuce for the food pantry.

The church even received a local community garden grant for $1,000, which paid for a fence to keep out animals. Hoagland and Guinn built the fence around the whole garden.

Hoagland also helps tend to the food pantry side of the garden. He said over the summer they have donated about 700 pounds of fresh vegetables to New Hope Food Pantry, which Hoagland said they are very grateful for. Local pantries do not always receive fresh vegetables or fruit.

“We look at it as a ministry to the community,” Hoagland said. “I just feel like it’s something God has blessed us with, and we need to utilize the land out here that we have to try to get young people involved and engaged.”

Hoagland said as a farmer, he is encouraged by many young people’s interest in sustainable farming, and the garden is an opportunity for them to learn how to grow their own food.

He was happy to help those who didn’t know much about gardening, but said that doing much of it himself this summer has been a lot of work. He hopes that more people will volunteer and get more involved next year.

“It’s not easy, it’s hard work; in July and August it gets hot and doesn’t rain,” Hoagland said. “I’ve been on this now six months, pretty heavy, and we haven’t traveled any places we’d like to go; it is a lot of work.”

Hoagland grew up on a small farm in Henry County tending to a large garden. He was the youngest of 10, and grew all types of vegetables, a lot of corn to feed cows, and raised tobacco like many other farms at the time. He said his mother would tell him what to do with the garden, but he didn’t learn everything.

“I didn’t really pay attention to what we were doing in the garden growing up, I just did what my mom told me to do,” Hoagland said. “She said ‘go pick beans’ or ‘go plant corn’ and I would do it, but I didn’t pay attention to the nuances of when you’re supposed to do it, so this has been a learning experience.”

Hoagland even grew up with and was friends with famous novelist Wendell Berry, who is also from Henry County and is a local farming enthusiast.

After graduating law school at the University of Kentucky in 1969, Hoagland was a banker for 44 years. He has lived in Danville for 39 years and is now retired.

Hoagland said he hopes they will expand the garden significantly in future years, and also plant more trees on the property. When the farming season ends later in September, Hoagland will help plant a cover crop to protect the soil over the winter. He also hopes to build a compost pile next year.

Duff said he also hopes to get more people involved next year, especially with harvesting.

“We just like teaching people how to care for the earth, feed themselves, and build community while doing it,” Duff said.

People who want to get involved next year can email or visit