In the pit of an old sandstone quarry in South Charleston, WV, miracles take place. Miracles of growth, miracles of generosity, miracles of community spirit – all possible through the Manna Meal garden. This level space on the floor of the old quarry has been many things through the years. First, the original quarry. Next, the beloved swimming hole remembered by thousands from the 40’s through the 80’s. Then the putt-putt golf course, and the adjacent building where birthday parties were celebrated with all of the ticket-dispensing games from the late 80’s till 2006. Then, a fallow period after the property was bought by an adjacent church to serve as a fellowship and youth hall.
Now for the third year, the flat space is serving as the host to the Manna Meal garden. Manna Meal, which provides breakfast and lunch to all comers for 365 days of the year, is housed in St. John’s Episcopal church in downtown Charleston. The Manna Meal garden is one way to provide fresh produce during the growing season for the ministry. I did not participate the first year that the garden was established and flooded in the Rock Lake quarry. But last year I participated in the creation of the hugelkultur beds. The City of South Charleston contributed by sending all of the wood chips from their tree trimming into huge piles. I was one of the beasts of burden who would fill wheelbarrows with the wood chips, then work to build up the raised beds and the higher mounds where the soil would be laid. We followed that up with wheelbarrows full of compost that served as the actual soil for the vegetables. Now we have row upon row of fertile soil ready to serve as the home of the vegetables for 2017.
It’s a varied crew who works at the garden. The indefatigable Jean Simpson who leads Manna Meal spends as much time as she can spare from the kitchen at the garden. She brings the 5-gallon buckets of food scraps that get composted in the large compost cells we use. Most of the rest of the volunteers seem like me – older, and either retired or nearing retirement age. For me, after a career spent dealing with chemicals, and computer systems, and endless bureaucracy, it is a delight to spend time hauling dirt, pulling weeds, and whatever else is needed to make the garden work.
We aren’t in a hurry. If you need to sit a spell to gather the strength to go back to digging or hauling or weeding, please feel free to do that. Soon it will be time to bring out the tomato cages for the plants that will be housed in the raised beds at the back of the garden. A nursery has already donated thousands of plants for the garden, and some of the hardier plants have already been planted. Others will await their turn to be stuck into the rich earth so they can soak in the sunlight and convert photons into calories.
It’s not all vegetables in this garden. There’s a large pollinator garden that will blossom with annuals and perennials during the summer. Along the border grow the iris rhizomes which will soon send flowering spikes into the air. And my own contribution, the daffodils and jonquils, are completing their blooming season. I took pictures of the area this week so that I can know where to plant additional bulbs for the upcoming fall. The bulbs I planted last fall have all bloomed now, and will begin their process of budding and growing new bulbs for next year.
As will happen with a group of like-minded adults, the topics discussed at the gardening sessions can vary wildly. So far this spring, politics seem to be taking a disproportionate share of the conversation. My observation of the group is that the large majority of the gardeners who are giving of their time and energy to feed those who can’t afford to feed themselves, that majority would be classified as liberal. It’s my anecdotal observation that those who actually do things to help society, those who really put their energy and money where their heart is, can be classed as liberal. Those who feel that the poor are leaches whose personal responsibility failings are taking money away from them, are conservative.
I am struck time and time again by the image that conservative commentators try to use to portray liberals. Snowflakes! As if that were a derogatory term. If you combine enough snowflakes, they turn into ice. And enough ice will turn into a glacier. And a glacier will scour over everything in its path on its way downhill, until its water melts and provides moisture for all lands found downhill from the glacier. So the supposedly fragile snowflake turns out to be essential in the nourishment of the earth.
So the followers of Fox news and Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter and their ilk go on complaining about the undeserving poor who milk the welfare system for everything they can in order to squander their lives in squalor and dissolution. Meanwhile, those of us who believe in humanity, we spend our time, and energy, and donate our money in order to enable those who happen to live a standard deviation or two below the median, to enable them to at least get enough to eat in order to survive. Thank God for ministries like Manna Meal and those who work tirelessly to enable them to continue during the times that their services are needed.