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Better Living Center has community garden to feed people

By Shannon St. Hilaire

When the Better Living Center in Spokane was looking for a way to grow beyond being a food bank serving a section of the city and offering other household and baby supplies, Gretal Cromwell, a board member and fan of gardening began exploring options to start a community garden.

Greta Cromwell
Gretal Cromwell, Better Living Center community garden

She thought a garden was fitting with the center’s and the Seventh-day Adventist Church’s mission to help people discover ways to live healthy lives—body and soul.

“Being vegetarian is a personal choice for members, not a salvation issue.  As a church we promote a healthy lifestyle that includes vegetarianism,” she said.  “We promote wellness of body because our bodies have a powerful connection to our spiritual and mental health.”

Members often look to the Garden of Eden diet of fruit, nuts and seeds, Gretal said, adding that right after the flood, Noah and his family ate meat because vegetation was scarce. She said post-flood life spans decreased dramatically.

“It’s exciting to see the rest of the world now promoting the benefits of the plant-rich diet our church has been promoting since its founding in 1863,” she said.  “A vegetarian lifestyle also has impact on the earth around us.”

Gretal had the idea for the community garden and found resources at a 2011 Second Harvest conference.  Funding became available before she developed the project.

Hope for Humanity, an international Adventist aid organization, approached the Upper Columbia Conference of the Seventh-day Adventist Churches last year offering funds for a project.

The conference submitted six proposals, including the one from Better Living Center, which is run by the Seventh-day Adventist Constituency of Linwood, Central and South Hill Spokane churches and North View in Mead.  The center received $6,800.

We serve more than 500 people a month,” said Gretal. “We wanted to do more because we see more need. We’ve been looking for ways to grow.  Just giving food is not enough.”

The center shares its space with an Adventist TV station, KHBA, in a small building, so one-on-one-counseling is impossible.  People come to the window to pick up their food and go.

“We want the outside to reflect what happens inside,” she said.

Wayne and Jeanine Kablanow, pastors of the West Plains SDA and Northview SDA churches and board members, recently purchased 10 acres and gave the center the use of three acres.

This spring, after receiving the grant, Gretal organized a planning meeting.  Twenty people came and committed to seeing the process through.  The group drove to the land and realized three acres “isn’t a garden, it’s a farm,” she said.

The property has a pond in a secluded meadow surrounded by trees and teeming with birds and wildlife.  There’s limited view of neighbors in the setting off the highway in Airway Heights. 

Gretal will arrange a bus or carpool system to bring those without transportation to the garden.

They have tilled the land several times, so some of it will be ready for growing this year. 

Gary Bartholomew, who runs Bartholomew Pump Services and builds wells in Guatemala through Water for Life, donated a pump and three pressure tanks for a well that was already on the property. 

Another member donated a small greenhouse so they can grow plants that would not have time to grow in Spokane’s short season. 

A third volunteer is digging an irrigation line for a sprinkler system.

Volunteers, led by Gretal’s husband, are building a fence and developing an acre of garden.

Gretal hopes to have a mentorship program with volunteers who work plots beside people who do not know how to garden.

Most volunteers have come from the four churches in the constituency, but they seek more volunteers from the community from youth groups and Pathfinders, an Adventist program like Boy Scouts.  She also seeks a master gardener to provide expertise.

The committee hopes to expand the ministry with projects such as a vegetarian restaurant and selling organic produce to area markets.

In addition to having family plots, there will be a large plot for the Better Living Center. 

Gretal believes health grows by giving people ownership and teaching them to grow their food.

The garden will be organic, which requires more work. The land, which has not been farmed for many years, is full of grass and weeds, but they will avoid using herbicides or pesticides. 

Instead of using a few hundred pounds of chemical fertilizer, they need to use thousands of pounds an acre of cottonseed fertilizer or dairy manure.

“Being organic will be worth it, but there is much to learn. God’s original way is best,” she said.

In addition to improving the nutrition intake of families in need, Gretal hopes the garden will cultivate relationships, allowing volunteers to interact with the people they serve.

 Families will work on their plots together.  Gretal, who has a toddler and is expecting another child, often brings her family to the garden with her.

“My husband and I would like to have a place like this, but we live in town,” she said.  “It gives us a taste of the blessing a natural setting can be.”

Working on the garden with her husband has deepened their marriage.  They are often involved in service projects. Realizing how much time, they spend on volunteering, service projects and ministry, they have decided to enter the ministry.

“God reminds me that this project is bigger than what one person can do,” Gretal said.  “Because of the baby, I have to rely on other people. I appreciate the support system in Adventist churches.

“We are instruments, but God is the one who begins the work and will finish it,” she said.

“Our mission includes our health,” she said. “If we have healthy bodies, we can think more clearly, make better decisions and understand God better.  By adopting a lifestyle with exercise, rest and diet, we can begin to experience an abundant life today.”

For information, call 878-8190 or email gretal.cromwell@gmail.com.