Love, Faith and an Abundant Harvest
By James Gillis
At God’s Community Garden in Middletown, 66,000 pounds of food was grown — and donated — last year
Tucked away next to a church and across from a football field is one of Aquidneck Island’s weapons in the war on local hunger.
God’s Community Garden sits next to Calvary United Methodist Church on Turner Road in Middletown. It features three greenhouses, a supply shack and other structures. On the menu are vegetables, herbs and flowers. But the main thrust is vegetables.
“It’s all volunteers here,” said director Linda Wood. “We teach people how to grow what’s needed. We’ve had people whose hands were never dirty. Now they dig in and plant seeds. They grow to love it.”
What will an abundance of love and faith, as Wood likes to stress, produce for those with empty cupboards?
Veggies by the ton
Well, the garden delivered 66,000 pounds of vegetables in 2022. Add that to more than 33 tons of veggies grown and distributed during the past 15 years — with much more to come in 2023. Volunteers ship food from the garden to the St. John’s Church Food Pantry in Portsmouth and a variety of area churches and soup kitchens, including Newport’s St. Paul’s Methodist Church, a partner in creating the garden.
The garden also sells a hot sauce and produces flowers and herbs, as well as piles of spinach, kale, lettuce, arugula and other vegetables.
“No one gets paid, and that includes me,” Wood said. “We don’t place restrictions on who can volunteer… race, ethnicity, religion aren’t factors. We’re non-denominational. We will train you if you’re willing to work.”
An army of volunteers
Wood, 77, is a slight woman of enormous faith. She wears across and uses God as her guide in planning and decision-making.
She’ll tell you the community garden is a team venture, with volunteers from across Aquidneck Island as well as groups from Salve Regina University and the Naval War College.
“This is not about me,” she said.
Others may differ.
Peter Silvia of Newport is a professional photographer who takes photos of the garden (some of which are paired with this story).In their spare time, Silvia and his neighbor, Don DeLuca, are tired toy designer, double as handymen.
“I think Linda… well, she’s the ringleader,” Silvia said. “When someone new arrives, she hands out these 3-by-5 index cards with assignments on them. She puts a lot into it.”
Wood got involved in 2007 after Cavalry and two other churches launched the program. A bookkeeper by trade, she’s mixed her financial acumen among the beans and spinach.
She learned how to write grants, drawing from a number of charitable trusts. The money pays for structures, seeds and tools.
Those wishing to donate individually may log onto www.godscommunitygarden.com. That site also provides operation details.
“We don’t take donations out here (at the garden),” Wood said. “We keep it simple. No money changes hands here.”
Farm stands give out free food from June to September on Wednesdays from 10 a.m. to 11:30 a.m.
Wood grew up in the town of Newton, Mass., bordering Boston. She and her late husband, William, lived largely in towns like Uxbridge and Sudbury in Massachusetts before retiring to Portsmouth after vacationing in Newport through the years.
The decades have done little to erode her Boston accent. The name “Don” can sound like a confusing “Dawn.”
For Wood there is beauty in building a community. Aquidneck Island is a good size for drawing helpers (“I’m comfortable in small towns”) and being able to reach those in need. And Wood is impressed by the commitment locals make.
From farm to table
At times, the garden has delivered to the Florence Gray Center in Newport. There she met veteran community leader Pauline Perkins-Moye.
“No one was coming by for food,” Wood said. “So Pauline banged on doors and told them to come out and take some food. She didn’t wait around.”
Kathleen Rendos frequently joins the effort. Rendos is the assistant director of the Center for Engagement and Service at Salve Regina University, where she’s worked for18 years.
Rendos gathers students to volunteer at the garden. The men’s and women’s rugby teams have been enthusiastic.
“They’re used to working as teammates,” Rendos said. “But this is a different type of teamwork. Most of them come in with no experience in growing vegetables.
“They come in thinking of green beans in a can. I understand. I grew up on green beans in a can. At the garden they learn the idea of farm to table. And they love it.”
A calm place amidst the chaos
God’s Community Garden sits across from the Gaudet Middle School football field and maybe a mile from the speedway bustle of East Main Road.
But it feels detached, as if it’s been cocooned — an agrarian anomaly.
Silvia started volunteering about a year ago. His friend, Christine Eagan, is one of a core of five women who are devoted volunteers.
Eagan urged Silvia to visit. And he’s never stopped coming back after that first trip to the farm.
“There’s a sense of calm and contentment and even peace out there,” Silvia said. “I think the people who volunteer feel that as well. And they’re doing great work. Food insecurity is a major issue.”
Wood shows no signs of wearing down. In fact, since her husband’s passing about a year ago, she spends more time than ever at the garden.
“This was a great place during the pandemic,” she said. “We had seniors here working outside and distancing. It was a benefit. That was a time when older people felt very isolated.”
Wood’s wish list includes more volunteers. While 66,000 pounds of vegetables distributed in 2022 is impressive, victories in the war on hunger are usually Pyrrhic.
But Wood likes to make a dent. “We grow healthy food and get it to people,” she says. “It feels good.”