Veggie garden bearing fruit in Lafayette, La.

By: Daphne Nabors

On any given day, you’re likely to find Jerry Brown working in the vegetable garden that lies right in the middle of The Salvation Army’s facility in Lafayette, Louisiana. He’s all but guaranteed to have a massive grin across his face. The social services case manager at the Lafayette Corps, Brown and his passion for helping people, combined with his passion for gardening, has helped produce a beautiful community garden.

The food grown in the garden will supplement the food for their shelter kitchen – which feeds not only the residents of the shelter but also many hungry people from the community, often entire families. He has taken on the community garden as sort of a special project, acting as lead gardener while always welcoming help from volunteers. “The concept has always been a community garden – one that’s been put in by the community, maintained by the community,” Brown said. “It’s on our physical property here, but everyone pitches in … I provide some oversight, direction, and it exists on volunteers is what it amounts to. Much like what God does, you need some fertile ground to plant that seed, so the roots sink in deep.”

The garden contains tomatoes, different types of peppers, romaine lettuce, beans, cucumbers, eggplants, different spices, cantaloupes and watermelons.

“We have plans for a few other things—radishes, carrots, and whatever else we can find,” Brown said. “The plants in the garden have mostly been donated. All Seasons Nursery, a local garden center, held a Salvation Army Day where they matched donations and sales in the form of a gift card to The Salvation Army. There have also been several donations from people around the community just checking in and providing what was needed. It’s amazing. Anytime we need something, it’s always provided, always.”

In addition to the food provided by the garden, Brown also values the fellowship that comes from caring for it. He recalled, “A number of us were actually planting the seedlings, and we just started talking about, there’s a time to plant and a time to reap, and we kind of expanded on that into our own little Bible study.” That seed of remembering a Bible verse grew into a larger discussion about their faith and the foundation of their faith – how people grow when God has planted them in good soil and how that leads to bearing fruit in their lives.

Brown appreciates the calm and welcoming nature the garden adds to the shelter environment, bringing comfort and stability to the men staying there.

“The shelter has been transitioning over the past year,” he said. “For instance, we started serving breakfast for the men. Just that little bit helps them hold their head a little higher and put their shoulders back and they say, ‘OK, I can face today.’ I mean, being on the streets, it’s not easy. Just that little bit right there, that little bit of fellowship and prayer in the mornings, that helps. They come here, it’s a place of refuge where they can let that breath out, and go, ‘Whew, I don’t have to look over my back anymore.’ We have love and compassion here. These are people that care. Look around the environment right here, it’s not a harsh environment, it’s welcoming – that’s what we are.”

Daphne Nabors is the graphics and creative design specialist for the Alabama-Louisiana-Mississippi Division.