Some people come early to church to work on the flower arrangements or get the doughnuts and coffee ready. Kayla Ivarson, a Hopkins resident who attends Solomon's Porch in Southwest Minneapolis' Kingfield neighborhood comes early to help feed people afflicted by HIV and AIDS.
This past Sunday, Ivarson and a clutch of children from the congregation knelt on the sidewalk outside the church building, wrists-deep in a patch of cherry tomatoes. At the mere suggestion of a shiny red anything peeking out from the dense foliage, eager fingers plunged into the thicket, emerging to release the fruit—plonk!—over a large piece of Tupperware sitting on the cement. As the gang moved a few yards east to a miniature forest of pepper plants, and with the zucchini plants still several paces off, it became clear that the plastic tub wasn't nearly up to the task it had been given.
All the produce collected in the half-hour before the evening service will make its way, within a week, onto the plates of residents at local nonprofit Clare Housing's care homes around the Twin Cities. While the homes do provide long-term and end-of-life care for people disabled by AIDS, a large number of their residents are only temporary as they look to stabilize their health after an illness or a change in medication before returning to their normal lives.
Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of the whole enterprise is the fact that Ivarson has only a tiny fraction of the lot to work with. After several years' coaxing, the garden—less than 90 feet long by between five and ten feet wide—can now foster enough bounty that when everything is in season, Solomon's Porch can provide produce to four of Clare Housing's four-person care homes.
The church has had a long history of using its front yard on 46th Street as a garden, Ivarson said, but connection with Clare Housing was pure coincidence.
"It was completely God’s timing,” she said, explaining that the church and the agency started to develop a bond right as the garden was starting to bear fruit. ”I also wanted to stick with them because I want to be a person who contradicts what the (Christian) Church globally is saying about gays. Jesus said to help the poor, the needy, and the homeless with no strings attached, so that’s how we work.”
Solomon's Porch isn't the only Minneapolis house of worship with a garden like this. Lynnhurst neighborhood synagogue Shir Tikvah also grows their own garden with help from local urban farmers at Harvest Moon Backyard Farmers. Produce is donated to local HIV/AIDS service center The Aliveness Project. Krista Leraas and her co-conspirators helped get the garden started, and help maintain it. The goal for this and other, similar projects, she said, is to help the congregation take over weeding, maintainence, and delivery of the produce.
"The Aliveness Project has always been a place we've supported in the past with funds as part of our social justice work, and this is an outgrowth—get it? It's a garden—of that," said John Humleker, the synagogue's Executive Director. "It looked like a good match to us: there was someone who needs land to grow vegetables, and we had the land sitting here."
Tim Marburger, head of the Aliveness Project's fundraising efforts, said the produce from Shir Tikvah and numerous other local gardens goes into the 150 to 175 meals the organization serves every day.
"Our members are living with HIV/AIDS, it's side effects and the side effects of their medications," Marburger wrote in an email to Patch. "Healthy foods are very important to a person’s immune system. Plus, med adherence is better observed by those who eat regular meals.”
"Our members love the freshness and healthfulness of the donated vegetables," he added. "It’s a win win situation all around."