Church Food Co-ops Plant 'God's Gardens'


By Glenn Hannigan
North Georgia Advocate
Charles Barnes is enjoying a return to his roots. 
Barnes, a retired minister and former director of church
development in the North Georgia Conference, fondly remembers growing up on a farm in Carroll County. 
“It was how we lived,” said Barnes. “We farmed about 100 acres. We had livestock, grew cotton, corn and wheat, and were completely self-sustaining.” 
Now Barnes, who helped start a food co-op at Mountain Park UMC, appreciates the opportunity to provide fresh crops for others. The volunteers from the Stone Mountain church are informally known as the Spud Crew. 
“There is something spiritual about working the soil,” Barnes said. “I find that working in the dirt, planting and harvesting crops, brings me into closer commune with God.” 
It is a growing ministry in more ways than one. Various Methodist churches in the area, including Decatur First UMC and Hillside UMC, in Cherokee County, have also begun food gardens. The churches donate the fruit and vegetables to help feed needy families. 
Barnes and Diane Whetstone, wife of former Mountain Park pastor Gary Whetstone, started the project a few years ago on a donated one-acre tract off Rockbridge Road in Lilburn. They expect to harvest a ton of sweet potatoes next month.
“It is wonderful to see how enthused people have been to get out and get their hands dirty,” Barnes said. “They have been willing to work hard. And we are also blessed that our new pastor, Charles Robinson, has stepped in and is fully supporting this ministry.” 
The efforts of the Spud Crew benefit the Lilburn Cooperative Ministry, just down the road. 
Thirty miles west, in Cherokee County, the corner lot at Univeter and Ellenwood was little more than a large brush pile a year ago. 
Now it’s a lush green, three-quarter acre garden with 60 rows of corn and 60 tomato plants, cucumbers, green beans, eggplants, squash, okra, sweet potatoes, all varieties of peppers and so much more. 
They call it God’s Garden. 
The project grew out of a relationship between a volunteer at the Cherokee County Senior Center and a frequent visitor there. The 88-year-old landowner wants no attention or accolades for allowing members of a local Sunday school class to plant the garden on a portion of his homestead. 
Someone comes out to work in the garden most every day, said Cheryl Copley, a member of the Hillside UMC class. She estimates that the garden has yielded more than 1,000 pounds of food this summer. Volunteers also have picked close to 1,500 pounds of apples from trees on the property.. 
The first fruits went to the senior center, at the landowner’s request. After that, recipients of the harvest have been MUST Ministries, residents of the Cherokee Family Violence Center, and local food pantries. 
Copley is careful to point out that the project has less to do with who was responsible for tilling, planting and nurturing the plot, than the good that has come out of it. She wants people to know that it’s not that hard to make a difference for someone in need. 
“It’s all about God and how easy it is to help others. You might not think you can make a difference, but you can,” she said. 
Thirty-five miles southeast of Canton, Decatur First UMC recently started its own organic farming project, dubbed: “The Little Garden That Could.” 
Through mid-summer, Decatur members celebrated the successful harvest that included lettuce, onions, green beans, squash, okra and tomatoes. 
As stated on the Decatur First website: “Growing your own food is a wonderful way to save money, eat healthier, and care for God’s creation.” 
Mountain Park’s Barnes sees a bountiful future in food co-ops. More people seem eager to step forward to help. 
A large Baptist church in the Metro Atlanta area recently called seeking information about the Spud Crew’s work. And a local family, with property in Florida, is looking for Methodist churches in the surrounding community that would be interested in farming seven acres. 
“It is amazing to see what God is doing,” Barnes said. “We see a ministry that is going to spread to become regional . . . and then national. We’re blessed to be a part of it.”

This article ran in the September 4 North Georgia Advocate. To subscribe or renew, visit