Giving Back Through Gardening
Susan Sides has always loved digging in the dirt. She grew up in a lower-middle-class neighborhood in Miami, Florida, and was the only person she knew who tended a backyard vegetable garden. Always fascinated with the natural world, she filled her childhood bedroom with seeds and other treasures. Her bedroom looked like a cross between a working laboratory and a natural science museum. Susan eventually turned her love of gardening into a career path, earning a degree in biology from a small, local college in Miami. In 1985, she became the gardener and garden writer for The Mother Earth News Magazine, a publication focused on teaching families how to live self-reliant, sustainable, and meaningful lives. Leading a busy life as the mother of two young sons, she turned her attention to writing, homeschooling, and creating a loving home.
In 1987, Susan and her husband Franklin became friends with the McClure Clark family whose ancestors, in the first half of the last century, established the original Lord’s Acre, a food charity organization located in Fairview, North Carolina. The Lord’s Acre was established by The Farmer’s Federation, a local agricultural cooperative that helped area farmers make a better living and was founded on the biblical principle of tithing or giving a tenth. Farmers signing up donated the produce from one acre of their crops to help feed others. Within 11 years, The Lord’s Acre charity project included over a thousand churches, and 20 denominations with gardens flourishing throughout the United States, India, China, Brazil, Mexico, and Japan.
In 2008, inspired by the story of the original Lord’s Acre, Susan and her husband launched a new food charity organization with a new mission under the same name. The Lord’s Acre was re-established in Fairview, North Carolina with a goal of finding and connecting every person’s abundance with the hunger existing in others. The Lord’s Acre, operated by a board of 13 people, supplies fresh, organic produce for Food for Fairview, a local food pantry, and Fairview’s Welcome Table. The Welcome Table is a community restaurant where all people are welcome to come once a week to eat a fresh, home-cooked meal on a pay-as-you-can, if-you-can basis. Currently, The Lord’s Acre provides 75 families with fresh produce once a week through Food for Fairview. The Welcome Table feeds 60-80 people weekly with produce donated from The Lord’s Acre and donates excess produce to the local Veteran’s Hospital. In all, The Lord’s Acre supplies fresh produce to approximately 300 people weekly during the growing season.
Susan and her husband Franklin require assistance managing the garden. The Lord’s Acre offers an unpaid intern program in which interns live on the property and study under master gardeners. Last year, Susan began offering town internships for local residents, living in their own homes, to work and learn about gardening during the week.
The Lord’s Acre is volunteer driven and depends on community members and organizations to work in the garden. Boy Scout troops, church youth groups, colleges, clubs, schools, and individuals may work once a week, once a season, or more often pulling weeds, planting seeds, composting, or harvesting vegetables under the guidance of professional gardeners. Susan encourages everyone to volunteer their talent and skills. She understands that gardening is not for everyone, but she will find a niche for almost any type of person or talent. If a person is a musician, an artist, an amateur meteorologist, a cook, enjoys children, does website work, understands data analysis, is computer savvy, loves anthropology, is a beekeeper or birding enthusiast, does statistics work, or a thousand other things, The Lord’s Acre can use their gift.
With the economic downturn, more families are seeking aid. In fact, last year one in six Western North Carolina residents received emergency food assistance. (In March NPR news noted that the Asheville are was THIRD in food insecurity in the nation!) Susan and the board members wanted to do more, so when additional acreage became available the Lord’s Acre board members purchased it. The additional space will expand the garden to include small livestock, fruit, and nut trees. The expansion will increase the amount of food the Lord’s Acre gives away during the growing season.
The Lord’s Acre needs you, the community, to help support the mission of giving back through gardening. If you are interested in volunteering at the garden, there is a weekly volunteer work time on Wednesdays from 6:00-8:00 p.m. Saturday mornings are reserved for volunteer groups, and Friday mornings are set aside for harvesting for the pantry from 7:00-9:00 a.m.