The Giving Garden

For the last two decades, Russell Moody, pastor at the Pittsfield Church of Christ, has worn many different hats in his parish. Most recently, he is donning a farmer's cap, thanks in part to a decision that he and his parishioners made two years ago to make it their mission to nourish the people of Berkshire County from the inside out.

“I saw that the First United Methodist Church had utilized every bit of their ground space in order to grow a small garden, the fruits of which they used to feed the people who were coming through their doors. I thought, 'if they can do that with such a tiny plot of land, think of what our congregation could do with the 10 acres of lawn we have.' It's like the Parable of the Talents. We have this talent, we can use it to the fullest or we can bury it.”

The only thing that Moody and several volunteers who “came out of the woodwork” buried were seeds. In the fall of 2011, Pittsfield Church of Christ broke ground on the Giving Garden, a now 40,000 square foot plot (plus several smaller plots assigned to individual families) of ground dedicated to growing fresh produce to donate to the Western Massachusetts Food Bank which in turn delivers the crisp veggies to area food pantries and soup kitchens. Last year, their first growing season, the Giving Garden donated some 5,000 lbs of food, and has doubled their ground space thanks in part to a $2,000 grant awarded by the Green Pastures Fund. And, of course, to the generosity of community members such as Alexandra Dest, who is the founder of the Pittsfield-based Alexandra Dest Capital Management, LLC. When Moody put out a call to the community to raise $5,000 for a tractor to work the land of the new garden, Dest responded with a match challenge

“It was a no-brainer, I had to do it,” she says. “The bottom line truth is that I suffered from food allergies for years. Due to pesticides. Nutrition is the root cause of illnesses and healing. I want to make sure that all people have access to food that will make them stronger.”

Nourishing the soul and the body go hand-in-hand according to Pastor Moody, who deliberately sought to plant nutrient-rich foods (think romaine instead of iceberg) that would do more than just fill bellies. The tractor doesn't stay parked on the diminishing lawn of the church. Both he and Dest agreed that it should be a tool that is loaned out to any community organization that wants to be a part of the sustainable, charitable food revolution, whether its one acre or ten that they can toil over. Of course, the vision doesn't stop at lettuce and tomatoes, the Giving Garden will continue to expand its harvest, with plans for an apple orchard, a pumpkin patch, and water reclamation in the works.

“We have a short growing season, and so we need to make a huge impact,” he says. “This is truly the lesson of loving thy neighbor. We are dreaming the dream of sustainability, it's a community effort all the way around. These are the basic ingredients of humanity. Yes, I am my brother's keeper.”

The Green Pastures Fund was established at the Berkshire Taconic Community Foundation in 1999 by an anonymous donor. The fund’s mission is to preserve and encourage small, community-based agricultural ventures which might include, but are not limited to: community-supported agriculture; local farmers’ markets; urban garden programs; agricultural scholarships; cooperative programming; internships; grantwriting; and marketing.
About This Photo
About This Photo
Pastor Russell Moody and volunteer Ann Apat. Story by Nichole Dupont