Congregations across country replicate Denton Bible Church’s Community Garden — nation’s largest — growing fruits and vegetables for the homeless and hungry
DENTON, Texas — As fall harvest season approaches, a green-fingered Texas church is teaching other congregations how to be fruitful—literally—just as the Bible says. Churches across the country are replicating Denton Bible Church’s (DBC, www.dentonbible.org) successful Community Garden, the largest of its kind in the U.S., which helps feed thousands of people free of charge.
Yielding around 20,000 lb. of fruit and vegetables per year, the DBC community garden supplies more than a dozen Denton-area ministries and organizations. Recipients include the homeless and low-income families. Gardening volunteers come from different parts of Texas and even out of state to help plant, tend and harvest.
The community garden was established in 2009 by DBC member and local businessman Gene Gumfory, who was inspired by a church sermon on Jesus’ feeding of the five thousand with a small boy’s five loaves and fish. “It has been wonderful to be able to help feed people and hopefully let God’s love shine through as we do,” Gumfory says.
Set on 14.5 acres of church land close to the main DBC campus, the community garden comprises 155 individual plots—where growers are encouraged to donate whatever is surplus to their own needs—and a large general farming area. It is cared for by volunteers from DBC, other area churches, and students from local schools.
The success of the DBC community garden—whose land is named Shiloh Field—has inspired other churches to begin similar efforts, not only in different parts of Texas, but as far afield as Tennessee and Florida. Volunteers with the project have traveled to other churches to help spread what they have learned through the years.
Over the years, the community garden has become an important part of DBC’s wide-ranging ministry programs that share God’s love, from recovery groups to financial training and help. “Jesus said, ‘Feed my sheep,’ and through the community garden we have the opportunity to do that both physically and spiritually,” Gumfory says.
Volunteers harvest the land three days a week, and it offers produce year-round. Vegetables include bell peppers, cabbage, eggplant, onions, squash and sweet potatoes. The fruit yield includes peaches, pecans, persimmon, plums and watermelon.
The community garden harvests are “95 percent organic,” says Gumfory, a certified master gardener who combines overseeing the project as lead volunteer with running a chain of fast-food restaurants. “We don’t use any pesticide unless we have a real problem, and never spray anything on the food,” he says.
Though at 79 he is looking for help to share the leadership load at the garden, Gumfory has no plans to hang up his hoe.
”It’s the greatest thing to know you are where you are supposed to be, and doing what you are supposed to do,” he says. ““It is so gratifying to be able to help provide nourishment for people in this way.”
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A nondenominational congregation with more than 3,000 members, Denton Bible Church (www.dentonbible.org) was founded in 1976. In addition to a wide range of ministries for members and the local community, the church runs a Bible Training Center for Pastors and a Missionary Training Institute through which workers are prepared for service overseas.
PHOTO CUTLINE: Fast-food businessman and master gardener Gene Gumfory oversees Denton Bible Church’s volunteer-run Community Garden, the largest of its kind in the country, providing free food to the needy.