By Carl Stagner
There’s an ongoing harvest of hope taking place in Chicago today. Vernon Park Church of God carries on the legacy of one woman whose impact on the city during World War II can still be felt today. Mother Carr would be overjoyed by the unique ministry of Vernon Park that seeks to grow faith and community—one vegetable at a time. The community garden, which bears the hometown legend’s name, certainly needs no Miracle-Gro. Yet God, whose love is demonstrated by willing hands of those who till the soil, delights in working everyday miracles through Mother Carr’s Organic Farm.
“Mother Julia Carr was a longtime saint,” Anthony Williamson explains. Williamson, project director of the garden, explains that Carr, a church attendee for some thirty years, started a victory garden during the World War II era to supplement food supplies during shortages. After the war, Carr went on to start an inner-city garden for the community. Today, Vernon Park Church of God sponsors the project and continues the efforts begun by Carr decades ago.
Vernon Park Church of God operates the garden for several reasons, including to improve the physical health of the community and offer nutrient-rich organic food to a junk food–saturated society. But the gospel has always been their central motivation. “The purpose of the farm is to move all people closer to God by showing his compassion,” Williamson explains. “We send more than 10 percent of our harvest to local food kitchens. We’re able to give stipends to some workers and minister them back into society. It allows us to minister to people and talk to people about God and how he works in a physical form. Instead of just seeing us go to church, they see us in action.”
Pastor Jerald January echoes that sentiment. “The farm provides food the way the Lord intended—natural. However, it has proven God’s intent in not only nutrition but also purpose for those men and women who find fulfillment in working the soil. There are numerous opportunities to tell curious folks about the plan God gave us to grow food and provide it at an affordable cost. In addition, we’re able to give away a portion to homeless shelters and soup kitchens, giving glory to God.”
Community members save money when they buy into the ministry. For just $150, an individual or family can purchase a half-share for the entire season. Every other week, participants receive eight to ten pounds of vegetables. The average cost per pound is about eighty cents, in contrast to four or five dollars per pound at stores offering similar organic produce. “It’s helping people, who couldn’t afford to eat quality, eat quality food,” Williamson explains.
Recent partnerships and expansion have allowed Vernon Park Church of God to offer local honey. Not only do the bees provide honey for shareholders, they also provide better pollination for the garden. Butterflies, too, have benefited from the garden. With the guidance and support of an area faith-based environmental agency, Mother Carr’s Organic Farm is now a monarch butterfly sanctuary.
God has greatly blessed Vernon Park Church of God over the years. Mother Carr’s Organic Farm is just one example. Williamson reflects on the success of the garden thus far and anticipates a bright future of this growing ministry: “I believe that it will help us to become an even healthier community and create better men and women of God.”
Do you have an an innovative idea that could make a difference in your community? Grant funding is available. Submit your idea at www.JesusIsTheSubject.org/Change-the-World.