Carma Mohler Grant Spotlight: Sheridan Park United Methodist Community Garden | Iowa United Methodist Foundation

September 1, 2021

In just three years, Sheridan Park UMC has turned an empty plot of land behind the church into a robust, beautiful garden enjoyed by congregation members, neighbors and refugees from around the world. After awarding this garden with grants in 2019 and 2020, Foundation staff members got a chance to visit and learn more about all the good this garden is doing for its community.

SPUM Garden, as the church members call it, has 19 plots measuring 400 square feet each. Every plot is assigned to either a parishioner or a “new American” family, a refugee family who has arrived in Iowa with an agricultural background. The church works with Lutheran Services in Iowa (LSI) to find families and offer training and support. So far, new Americans from the Asian nation Bhutan and the Republic of the Congo in Africa have plots there. Each of the families maintains their assigned plot and harvests their produce for personal use, including produce native to their homeland. The remaining plots are rented to members and friends of the church, including a pumpkin patch where the youth group harvests pumpkins for a Halloween party.

In addition to offering congregation members and refugees opportunities to meet and learn from each other, the garden provides food for much of its East Des Moines neighborhood. There is a “Veggie-table” by the main entrance for gardeners to leave excess produce for anyone to take. Several of the neighbors have become friends with gardeners and are grateful to get fresh vegetables. The garden also supports the nearby Bethel Mission homeless shelter, most recently with cucumber, squash and tomatoes. Some parishioners also plant flowers and donate them to decorate the church’s altar.

The “Veggie-table” at the entrance to the garden is popular among church neighbors and friends.

The Foundation was moved to award SPUM Garden with grant money, not only because of the great work it does promoting unity and friendship across cultures, but because of how quickly it is growing and looking to expand its reach. In 2020, the gardeners purchased (among other things) elevated planters and benches to allow people with mobility issues to participate in gardening. With the most recent grant, they purchased a brand new fence, a weed trimmer, a corn stalk shredder and material for new compost bins, helping to reduce landfill waste. They are continuing to look for ways to better serve the needs of the church, refugees and community.

If you are part of or know about an organization similar to SPUM Garden, please encourage them to apply for a hunger relief grant. The Foundation is happy to help support organizations fighting food insecurity across Iowa, thanks to the generosity of donor Carma Mohler. Grant applications are accepted July 1 – October 1 annually and are available on our website: