Job Envy by Ryan Koch

Last month I had the chance to meet a group of developmentally disabled teens from Tates Creek High School at the London Ferrell Community Garden. This was our second time to meet there. We did a short tour

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What Flowers Can Do by Ryan Koch

The following reflection was written by Pamela Stein, a volunteer at the Southland Church Community Garden. This piece was printed with permission from A Million God Stories

For years, my dad grew zinnias for me every summer at our family farm. Dad and I would go to the farm nearly every week throughout the summer and harvest the zinnias. I had bouquets of these colorful flowers in my house and in my office. The flowers made me smile. When I looked at the zinnias, I was reminded of my dad and also of my heavenly Father and His beautiful creation. My dad passed away the last week in October in 2016. It was the last week of the zinnia harvest on our farm. We cut a final bunch of zinnias to be displayed at the church at his funeral. He would have loved that.

My dad and I were very close. We were both dentists and practiced together for years. I have missed him terribly since the day he died, but as summer approached, my grief rose to a new level. The family farm was sold in June. My dad was gone, the farm was gone, and there would be no zinnias this year. But then our church announced the need for volunteers in the community garden. I asked if I might have a row in the garden to plant some zinnias and was permitted to do so. Two months later, hundreds of beautiful zinnias were blooming in the garden.  

There were so many flowers! We wanted to share! The church gave me permission to cut the zinnias to share with residents at a local nursing home. At first, I just made flower arrangements for the dining room and common spaces. But then I found out from our church care team that there were a few residents in local nursing homes that had requested visitors. The care team suggested that I take some of the zinnias to these residents.

My children went with me to take the flowers to the first nursing home resident on our list to visit. We walked down the long corridor of the nursing home with a beautiful bouquet of zinnias, looking for her room. We finally located her room and peeked inside. Sitting beside her bed was a woman I had known for many years. She was a dear friend of my father’s! She and her sister, who was the resident we were delivering the flowers to, grew up in the same small community with my dad. She was thrilled to see us and introduced all of us to her sister. “This is Bobby’s daughter and grandchildren!” Her older sister smiled. She had suffered a stroke and was not able to communicate, but her twinkling eyes said it all. I put the flowers on her bedside table and held her hand. She smiled at me and then with a frail hand, she reached up an touche my hair.

We stayed a bit and visited. As we left, I thought about what had just happened. The first person to receive the zinnias we grew in memory of dad was someone who grew up with him in his small community many miles away. Because she couldn’t communicate, I would have never known that she knew Dad if her sister, my dad’s dear friend, hadn’t been visiting her at the moment we arrived with the flowers. God was in that moment.

Since then the flower ministry has blossomed. We now have a small group of women of all ages from the church that meets every week to tend the flowers and make arrangements to bless even more nursing home residents. he residents and the employees light up when we arrive with the flowers. They call us the "Flower Girls."  Over and over they have told us how they love the flowers and how much they appreciate it. 

My hope is that next year the flower ministry will grow and that we can share the flowers with more nursing home residents. ut I will never forget the first resident that we visited and the connection to my dad. What a gift it was to me to give the flowers to someone who knew and loved my father. He would be so happy that this dear woman was the first recipient of the zinnias we grew because of him!

The Cost of Inspiration by Ryan Koch

Michelle Howell at Home.jpg

This past summer I spent a weekend with activists and artists and helping professionals at the Kentucky Rural Urban Exchange, which is a series of three weekend conferences designed to cultivate connections, exchange ideas, and work across the geographical and cultural boundaries that often isolate Kentuckians. We were shown some of the fantastic work going on in and around Bowling Green at places like the FFOYA House, the Bosnian Islamic Center of Bowling Green, and some of the natural features and underground waterways in Cave Country. 

Saturday’s trip in the late afternoon to Need More Acres Farm was particularly stunning. After Michelle Howell welcomed us to her 200 year old farm house, she led a tour of some of the fields where they grow fresh food all year round for ten families. The hoop houses allow the Howells to extend the harvest season through the winter. Michelle explained their presence at their local farmer’s market, and other outlets for their produce. I was especially struck by the small self-serve store where folks could come pick up their weekly share (including protein) of farm-raised food.

And after the tour, a feast. Our group was blessed that afternoon to find a table full of fresh sweet peppers, tomatoes, and melon grown on site and chopped for us. In fact, the peppers were just arrayed on a platter, not cooked or cut, but simply beautiful. There was a plate of local cheese, homemade bread, and several juices and ciders to share. A string band tuned up and started to play as we gathered on blankets and straw bales. The sun began its decent in earnest, and the shadows lengthened, and I quietly witnessed some magic underway. I was inspired.

I don’t want to sing too fondly of the merits of inspiration. I have been troubled by this beauty before. I felt this way after visiting David Wagoner and Arwen Donohue at Three Springs Farm. My first visit to their place occurred twelve years ago. And I was similarly inspired when I visited a community garden designed with and for people without homes in Santa Cruz, California. That one happened nearly twenty years ago. These visits, and the memories they create, are a touchstone, and part of my continuing education. I see things that, gratefully, I can’t unsee. I observe some solution that only seems to work there, and that was only discovered after years of experimentation. Many times, I see something that I would just love to have for our community.

(This past week, I was comparing notes on this visit with my friend, Rebecca Self, who told me about the kitchen she and some folks from FoodChain saw there at Need More Acres Farm. The Howells are able to process their food on site and to make food available to a number of emergency food organizations. In doing so, they have created several jobs for local community members. Rebecca too was beyond impressed with what she saw.)

Still, for all the trouble it may cause me, I am very grateful for the Howell’s work and gracious hospitality. We shared that meal. We saw the work underway there in Scottsville, Kentucky. We sensed the pride of place there, which felt like permission to return home to our work, and to remain faithful to our places.