More than a year ago, the Tabernacle Community Garden started taking root on a hillside off of Baldwin Avenue in East Marion. Now, this garden is producing even more vegetables for the people in the surrounding community who are in need of fresh and healthier foods.

Indeed, the Tabernacle Community Garden has expanded beyond the East Marion neighborhood with an annex on the five lane beside Fat Boys’ Burritos & More.

“We are well into our second year here and doing some amazing work in the community,” said Niki Palmer with Marion East Community Forum.

All of this progress will be celebrated on Saturday, July 27 with the Tabernacle Community Garden party, which will take place from 4 to 7 p.m. at the garden, which is located at the corner of Baldwin Avenue and Clark Street.

The garden party on Saturday, July 27 will feature door prizes and raffle prizes, which have been donated by local businesses such as Burrito Bros., McDowell Local, Artesana, Jack Frost Dairy Bar and Flavors on Main. Palmer said a lot of those businesses did the same thing last year when the garden was getting started.

This garden is a project of the Marion East Community Forum, similar to the Keeping it Fresh Garden that was planted by the West Marion Community Forum. In April of last year, a small group of volunteers with the Marion East Forum, along with help from County Cooperative Extension Director Molly Sandfoss, worked to put tomato plants and seeds into the ground along the hillside. The garden, which originally covered approximately 60 feet by 80 feet, started growing tomatoes, squash, zucchini, egg plant, peppers and sunflowers.

This garden stands on the site of the old East Marion Pentecostal Holiness Tabernacle, which was built in 1918 on the side of that hill off Baldwin Avenue. This large wood-frame structure was used by the East Marion Pentecostal Holiness Church for special worship services and could accommodate 750 people. It stood there for decades until it was demolished in the 1980s. The land still belongs to the church. Palmer’s husband, the Rev. Jeff Palmer, is the pastor of East Marion Pentecostal Holiness.

The work that is being done now at the site seeks to help those in our community who don’t know where or how they will get their next meal.

“What we are trying to do is bring the community together to address the problem of food insecurity,” said Niki Palmer. “It’s not just the city’s job or DSS’ job. It’s not just our church. It’s a true community garden and the community has come together to make it possible.”

More different types of vegetables, herbs and flowers are now being grown there. Students from the Future Farmers of America planted potatoes at the Tabernacle garden. A zephyr squash, which is half yellow and half green, is thriving at the site. Volunteers are growing watermelons, cucumbers and flowers there too.

In addition, the Tabernacle Community Garden has outgrown the East Marion neighborhood.

“We have had many community partnerships and even have been donated an annex garden,” said Niki Palmer.

Caleb Parker, owner of Fat Boys’ Burritos & More, donated a section of land next to his eatery on the five lane to serve as an addition for the Tabernacle garden.

At the Fat Boys location, the Marion East forum volunteers are growing zucchini, watermelons, tomatoes, cucumbers, beets, carrots, peppers and radishes. Sunflowers are growing tall there.

They have received donations from Banner’s Greenhouses in Nebo and Old Turtle Farms in Glenwood.

“We grow what is donated,” she said. “The seeds and plants are donated.”

Arthur Loftis with Dos Mundos Coffee Shop in Pleasant Gardens is donating used coffee grounds for the gardens.

Sandfoss and Matt Burneisen with Keep McDowell Beautiful were able to get a grant that paid for a tiller, a building to house it in, an irrigation system and three raised beds for the Tabernacle garden in East Marion.

And the food that is being produced at both locations helps the food insecure of McDowell.

Whoever works at the gardens can take the vegetables home for their own family, said Niki Palmer.

A lot of people who work at the gardens give the food to people who are elderly or disabled and others who cannot easily leave their homes. Food is also distributed to the local students who are considered homeless under the McKinney-Vento Act and to the children who are in foster care with the Department of Social Services, she added.

The folks who have grown this food at both locations give it out at the Marion East Community Forums. They have also brought the fresh vegetables to the Marion Fire Department and the McDowell EMS.

“People believe in what we are doing,” said Niki Palmer. “They share information in the community.”

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