Two new garden beds at Esperanza Lutheran in Ahwatukee Foothills are only the beginning, as the church hopes to eventually turn all of its empty land into a functional community garden.

The two beds aren’t hard to spot just outside the wall of Esperanza Lutheran, at 2601 E. Thunderhill Place. They’ve been in the works for years but were just completed now thanks to a local boy who decided to make it his Eagle Scout project.

Derek Wright helped plan, pay for, and put together the first two beds with donations from church members, Foothills Ace Hardware and Lowes. The first two beds were completed in one day with help from more than 50 volunteers, but that’s only phase one of the church’s Garden of Eatin’.

In phase two the church hopes to expand to build plots across the front of its land, which could then be rented out. In phase three they’d like to have plots across the whole retention basin.

Plans for the community garden actually began about two years ago. At that time Wendy Benz and Pastor Steve Hammer started attending workshops sponsored by St. Luke’s Health Initiative. Feeling intimidated by all the work, the project fell to the wayside. When Wright began looking for a project Hammer offered it up.

“I have a backyard that has nothing but concrete and chlorinated water in it,” Hammer said. “There’s no place to grow anything. We have all this space out here that could be doing something useful. We’d like people in our community to see this as a community resource, whether they worship here or not.”

Now that the garden is started the garden committee, Esperanza Agricultural Team (EAT), is feeling optimistic about the potential opportunities. There are already plans to begin planting seeds in December, which will be transferred into the garden in February. The group also hopes to work with the preschool at the church to help the kids learn.

“Preschoolers learn best by doing,” said Lynn Hockenberg, director and lead teacher for the preschool. “Providing this hands on learning opportunity is really exciting for the staff and the students. It translates into all the subjects. It’s science, it’s math, it’s language arts. It’s everything.”

Benz said the committee hopes the garden will bring generations together. Those who want to rent a bed can do so while there will be other beds available for activities with kids and classes. That will all come in time, of course. For now the group is forming teams, inviting the community in and getting ready for the next planting season.

EAT meets at the church every second Sunday of the month at noon. Their committees go over some business and then there is usually a how-to course taught by one of two master gardeners, Rebecca Montgomery and Bob Korehly.

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