Carma Mohler Grant Spotlight | Iowa United Methodist Foundation
Asbury Garden Ministry and Nevada Food at First
July 30, 2023
Visiting Carma Mohler Grant recipients is always inspiring for Foundation staff, and our most recent visits were no exception. This past month, to celebrate the beginning of a new grant season, IUMF staff visited the Asbury Garden in Bettendorf and the Food at First program in Nevada, both previous grant awardees.
The Asbury Garden Ministry, coordinated by Dave Phillips, touches the lives of thousands by providing upwards of 50,000 pounds of fresh vegetables annually to local food pantries, homeless shelters, low-income apartment complexes and needy families. The garden itself is a remarkable site to behold. It sits on over an acre (originally 1/3 of an acre) and boasts over 500 tomato plants, 10,000 onions, 3,500 potatoes, as well as several rows of peppers, cucumbers, cabbages, muskmelons and watermelons. The garden was an idea Dave had following the devastation of 9/11 – it would be a way to help parishioners heal as well as provide fresh produce to the community. Since 2002, Dave and his “garden disciples” have made many improvements: there is an underground watering system which allows them to water an entire section of the garden while doing other work; they have purchased a mower, tractor with several attachments, mulch layer, cultipacker and tiller; there are two large sheds for storage; and they recently added a bat house to help control the insect population.
The ministry at the garden was inspired by God’s command in Isaiah to “Feed my Hungry.” Dave feels “God has a blanket over the garden” because they have experienced minimal animal damage over the years, and they have found several generous donors in the community (Wallace’s Garden Center and K&K Hardware were both mentioned). They were also able to recover relatively quickly following the 2020 derecho. Dave himself is a huge blessing to the garden, sacrificing much of his time every summer to coordinate the planting, care and harvest of this enormous crop. Following the 2022 harvest, the garden surpassed 700,000 pounds of fresh vegetables distributed since inception. The Foundation was moved to award the Asbury Garden with a Carma Mohler Grant because of the large number of groups they help, the sheer volume of food they distribute and the impact a grant would have in helping purchase equipment to make harvesting easier. You can follow Asbury Garden Ministry on Facebook or reach out to Asbury UMC at 563-355-5218 if you want to donate or volunteer.
Next our staff made a visit to First UMC in Nevada, the home base for the Nevada Food at First program. This is another program that is distributing massive amounts of food: they deliver around 300 meals TWICE PER WEEK to low-income areas in Nevada and surrounding communities. This program started as a small Bible study group offering a dine-in meal at the church, and has since morphed into a large-scale delivery project that happens every Monday and Thursday. During the pandemic the idea of carry-out meals really took off, going from 17 meals one week to over 60 the next, and that number continued to grow as they started offering more pick-up locations. When we visited in July 2023, they were preparing 381 meals for one Monday evening, a new record. Because of the growing demand, they have pivoted to doing only carry-out and delivery, and they require users to either order online or call in their order by 3:30pm each Monday and Thursday. They have 10 pick-up locations in the area (ranging all the way from McCallsburg to Colo to Maxwell) and each person registers their pick-up spot and number of meals needed when they order.
It takes more than 350 volunteers annually to run such a huge program, and it is all coordinated by Barb Mittman, a clergy person appointed by the Bishop to serve this ministry as a Deacon. There are different community groups – Rotary Club, a sorority group and other area churches – that sign up to help the first Monday of each month, the first Thursday, etc. They need 6-8 servers for each meal plus the delivery drivers. In addition to meal delivery, Barb also coordinates several “food rescue” efforts around the area, procuring donated foods from Dollar Fresh, Panera, Brick Town Donuts, Crumbl Cookie, Ankeny Hy-Vee and others who contact her with available leftovers.
IUMF selected Food at First as a grant recipient because of how quickly their program was outgrowing their host kitchen at First UMC of Nevada. With a Carma Mohler Grant and others, they were able to purchase new kitchen appliances, replacing two unreliable oven ranges, and therefore keep up with the growing demand for meals. We also recognize the effort it takes to prepare, package and deliver upwards of 500 meals weekly, and we are proud to reward this dedication. Follow Nevada Food at First on Facebook to see what meals they offer each week, or visit their website to donate.
Carma Mohler Grant applications are accepted from July 1 – October 1 annually. If you know of or are part of a group fighting hunger in your community, we encourage you to apply. Organizations like the Asbury Garden and Nevada Food at First are working hard to eliminate food insecurity in Iowa, and the Foundation is thrilled to be a small part of their efforts.