MARYVILLE, Tenn. - While the congregation at Cedar Point Church in Maryville grows in its faith, members are starting a new community outreach that has them growing green, leafy vegetables and lush tomatoes on an acre of land behind the church.
Lead pastor Kurt Steinbach and his church members have spent the last few weeks preparing the ground and installing a hydroponic system just outside the church's back door. The tomatoes, lettuce, kale, spinach, eggplant, peppers, broccoli, cauliflower and beans all will be grown without any dirt. Hydroponics uses water, nutrients added to the water and a system of pots stacked vertically to make optimal use of the space. Instead of dirt, the root systems of the plants will have aged coconut fibers in which to establish themselves. That means no weeds to worry over and no red clay.
Steinbach said he was introduced to hydroponics about two years ago while in Florida. Fast-forward to this year and conversations here about ways Cedar Point could reach out to its community. Steinbach brought up the idea of the garden.
It clicked with members, who have helped get the garden established. Cedar Point even sent four of its members to Florida to be trained on the system. Others have helped with installation.
The plot of land has been leveled, a well has been dug as a source of water and the system is in operation. The plants were added just last week.
It is being set up as a cooperative, Steinbach explained. They are calling it Harvest Farms Co-op. Cedar Point members were invited to join, and now it's being opened up for others in the community to sign on. The cost is $60 per year.
"We felt like the Lord was leading us to do this as a way to create a sense of community," Steinbach said. "It will provide a source for food but also be a gathering place -- a village, a place to come together and interact."
Members of the co-op will be able to buy the vegetables at reasonable prices. But Steinbach and his congregation also want to help single parents and widows in the community, so they will be giving away 20 percent of the harvest to them.
The pastor said Cedar Point also is looking at other ways to help single-parent families. Steinbach said his church will use the pond on the property to teach children how to fish. Those who receive the vegetables at no cost will be invited to give back by helping with canning classes or other activities.
It will be a few weeks before harvest time, but food grown hydroponically generally takes less time to mature. Steinbach said the goal is to have about 300 co-op families this first year. Next year, there is space where the garden can be expanded to twice its size.
"I do feel like this is a vision from God," Steinbach said. "I brought it up and didn't know how they would react. It involves some really unique things. It's not your average church meeting."