Common Ground Community Garden
Born from a desire to love and serve its neighbor, Common Ground started as a partnership between First United Methodist Church and other local congregations in 2012. Through grants, local church support, and private donations, the organization opened the Common Ground Community Building at 1015 E. Hutchinson St. to enable individuals and families to
find a network of community-based partners and services. The group’s mission is to provide an innovative approach to addressing the needs of clients in poverty.
“We wanted a place where people could form relationships and find the resources they need — more than just money,”Executive Director Tina Mollencamp
“We wanted a place where people could form relationships and find the resources they need — more than just money,” Executive Director Tina Mollen camp says.
The organization has four base programs in which to distribute aid to clients:
1.The Benevolence Office provides temporary monetary assistance to local families in need, including emergency utility assistance (electricity, water, and sewer), rental and/or deposit assistance, and gas vouchers/bus passes for critical transportation needs.
2.The Families Forward Program assists working families who are transitioning from homelessness to independent living. Families are supported for one year to achieve sustainability. This can oftentimes be a difficult goal to achieve.
3.Project Homeless Connect, hosted annually in October, is an event designed to knock down as many barriers as possible that keep people homeless or in a state of near homelessness. This event connects individuals with a wide range of services for one day a year, including medical exams and services, mental health screenings, Missouri non-driver’s identification cards, housing and job resources, and flu shots.
4.The Community Garden, a project started by CommonGround partner Grace Episcopal Church in 2012, grows a variety of free produce.
“One of the things we were interested in was food ministry and to be a presence in the neighborhood to show that, within a small space, quite a few vegetables can be produced,”Ken Luebbering
“One of the things we were interested in was food ministry and to be a presence in the neighborhood to show that, within a small space, quite a few vegetable scan be produced,” says Ken Luebbering, who secured the grant from the Missouri Department of Agriculture to fund the garden. “We have also provided guidance to neighbors to start a garden of their own.”
Initially, Ken says they grew seasonal vegetables beginning with onions, radishes, and lettuces in the spring.In the summer, they transitioned to green beans, peppers, tomatoes, zucchini, and potatoes.
“Gardens are experiments and works in progress,” he says. “It has been a matter of learning what is useful. We had to adapt from time to time due to the kind of predators we were dealing with. One year it was groundhogs, and the deer are quite ferocious, so we added fences last year.”
“Gardens are experiments and works in progress.”Ken Luebbering
While members of Grace Episcopal Church still help maintain the gardens, the planting, tending, and harvesting have been taken over by locals like Tiffany Dixon, who is always looking for new participants. Produce from the garden is given to Common Ground clients and gifted to those who work the garden. In 2021, four families shared the garden duties for the year’s harvest, and the garden’s contents were available to anyone passing by.
“When we bought our house 14 years ago, we removed our front lawn and replaced it with a garden,” Ken says.“We plant hot peppers down by the street so our neighbor, who loves them, can just come by and pick them.”A lifelong gardener himself, Ken offers a few tips for new gardeners:
• Don’t be intimidated. Gardens don’t need to look fancy. Raised beds don’t have to have walls or be boxed in with lumber or stone. They can just be a pile of dirt higher than the surrounding ground to help with drainage.
• Find bright spots. Pick a spot that is sunny and plant what you love the most.
• Ask around. Don’t feel like you must grow everything.If you’re just getting started with gardening, ask someone who has some experience for advice. Gardeners love to share advice and plants with beginners!
While the garden is happening in a way they did not initially expect, Ken says he knows it will continue to change, grow, and adapt as the years go on.
Last year common ground provided over $123,000 in assistance to 734 families in the Jefferson City area.
Last summer, Food4Kids used the Common Ground front yard to to serve lunches prepared by First Presbyterian Church to neighborhood kids.