BRUNSWICK — Not just a tree, but a food forest grows in Brunswick.

The city's only grocery store closed last year, and out went the supply of fresh fruits and vegetables for anyone who did not, or could not, grow their own produce or drive 10 or more miles to get it.

Waiting for someone to solve the shortage was not the solution, the Rev. Anjel Scarborough said.

“We need to take charge of that,” Grace Episcopal Church's priest in charge said.

In the past 48 days, she, her congregation and others in the community have literally planted her inspiration: the Brunswick Food Forest. She got the idea for an urban garden at an Episcopal Buildings for a New Tomorrow conference in April.

Ron Finley, an urban gardener from South Central Los Angeles, addressed the conference concerning ways to sustain neighborhoods with fresh food grown in small patches. 

His message was: “You churches can be part of the solution,” Scarborough said.

She wondered if Grace Episcopal had enough land, and she thought about the yard behind the rented parsonage on A Street. It seemed just an overgrown mess, but now that it is cleared, it has room for several beds of vegetables and fruits.

She emailed parishioners before starting on what seemed like a slightly oddball idea, and half hoped they would talk her out of it. She encountered enthusiasm and similar thoughts hatching among the congregation, the Holy Spirit moving the idea along, she said.

Jonathan Spurrell was the first to respond by email to her idea. He and his wife, Abbey, grow their own produce and raise chickens at home. Abbey Spurrell is studying for her master's degree in nutrition while she tends to their infant, Ada.

“We both love gardening,” Jonathan Spurrell said.

“I wanted to do something that was a help to the community,” Abbey Spurrell said.

“We had people with a passion for gardening” and a community that needed fresh food, Scarborough said. “I believe the Holy Spirit works through our passions and energy.”

Beekeepers and gardeners Nick and Eric Schaffer signed up to help, and the church sexton, Art Reid, puts in extra effort mowing and tending the terraced garden.

In all, about 30 people are spending time caring for the community project, Scarborough said.

Nonchurch members may sign up online to help.

“There's an embracing of ... people's gifts and graces,” Scarborough said.

This season, beans, squash, melons, tomatoes, beets, carrots, radishes, eggplant and blueberries are growing. Lettuces and kale will be planted, and later still, peach, plum and nectarine seedlings, donated by Stark Bro's Nurseries and Orchards Co., will bear fruit.

Seed of Life Nurseries Inc., Thanksgiving Farms and Middletown High School also donated seedlings, and 84 Lumber donated wood for the garden beds' boxes. 

The church plans to sell the produce at competitive prices in a weekly farm market, which is now in the permitting phase with the city, Scarborough said.

“We're inventing this as we go along,” Reid said.

On June 28, the garden's first fruits and supplemental produce from Seed of Life will be for sale during the Brunswick Bicycle Festival and Challenge. Starting in July, Scarborough plans for the regular market to operate from 8 a.m. to noon Saturdays at Railroad Square.

She sees the enterprise becoming its own nonprofit organization, but in the meantime, contributions may come to the church, earmarked for the garden. One of the things the project could use immediately is a water tank to capture runoff to cut down on water use, and weed pullers are also always welcome, Scarborough said.

She envisions a market where customers from all walks of life will shop as equals, whether they use the subsidized Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, cash or credit card. The market will allow credit card holders and SNAP recipients to pay for tokens in $5 increments, and the tokens will be used to buy the produce. People with cash will use cash.

“There's a dignity factor,” Scarborough said.

The annual Episcopal conference charges attendees to think of ways to reuse and reconsider how things have been done, Scarborough said.

“In many ways, it's rethinking what church is,” she said.

While many parishes have buildings that are lovely, they are really just tools for larger ministry, she said. The diocese encourages conservation, and Scarborough sees the garden as part of a long-term goal to reduce carbon emissions.

Using the church land for a community project extends the church mission beyond its walls.

“It's a Brunswick community thing,” Scarborough said. “This is faith. Faith is when you plant a tree.

“This is the future.”

Follow Patti Borda Mullins on Twitter: @FNP_Patti.

If You Go

WHAT: Brunswick Food Forest first produce sale

WHEN: 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. June 28

WHERE: Railroad Square, 100 S. Maple Ave., Brunswick

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