Community garden in Ridgedale unites different cultures

Josh Miller, center, Julia Herrera, right, and Hope Holloway, back left, work to beautify the Taking Root Community Garden Tuesday in conjunction with Son Servants in Ridgedale. The middle school students represent Signal Mountain Presbyterian and Roswell (Ga). Presbyterian volunteers. The garden is locate at S. Main and Watkins streets.

A woman came from Iraq, another from Burundi, and a man came from Tanzania.

Each represented a different culture, but they all worked together at the Taking Root Community Garden.

Father Peter Kanyi, a Kenyan, translates for people in the group, saying they're all friends.

"This is a place where people meet together, have fellowship," he said.

The ordained Episcopal minister was among more than a dozen volunteers and refugees who met this week in the Chattanooga garden.

Two years ago, the land on the corner of Main and South Watkins streets was an abandoned community garden that looked fit for a dumping ground, according to organizers. Since the NEEMA Resettlement Outreach Ministry started a community garden there, it has become a place of peace for refugees and a centerpiece in the Ridgedale community.

"This is a place of learning different cultures," Kanyi said. "Also spiritually, you feel refreshed because you can see the birds in the air and the plants growing and you realize it's not you, yourself, just because of what you planted there, it's God who handles the whole thing."

The NEEMA ministry has two main functions: teaching English classes and having a community garden, organizers said.

Susannah Murdock started the nonprofit organization about six years ago after an African woman was raped in a Westside public housing unit and had to wait several days for a translator before she could communicate what happened to her.

Since then, Murdock has organized a group that teaches English to refugees and helps them serve as translators for others.

Members of several area volunteer groups were at the garden Tuesday.

"We want to make Jesus Christ known through serving," said Courtney Janusz, a volunteer with Son Servants, a Chattanooga-based group that allows youth and adults to take part in short-term mission trips internationally and around the country.

Twelve-year-old Eve Heslin was among several young people from Roswell (Ga.) Presbyterian Church who volunteered Tuesday.

"This helps people," she said while weeding a garden.

Students also came from Signal Mountain Presbyterian Church.

Myles Robinson, 12, said he lives in the area and just wanted to help.

"The community is joined together here," he said. "Just to know we can be together and get along, it's a nice feeling."

Contact staff writer Yolanda Putman at or 423-757-6431.