There were smiles all around Sunday morning in a down and out warehouse district near the railroad tracks off East Lancaster in Fort Worth. About 50 people, young and old; men, women and children layered against the chill, arrived to “Be the Church.”
Consisting of three separate groups from North Richland Hills Baptist Church, they came to work as part of their church’s Faith in Action program at an empty lot that is destined, with an influx of grant money, donations and volunteer labor, to become a commercial urban farm to benefit the local homeless population.
It’s another step along the path to create “something of value” in this blighted area, a dream of Feed by Grace, begun in 2004 as a ministry “to the spiritual and physical needs of the homeless community.” It was formed by Neale Mansfield, who serves as its executive director. Now, almost 10 years later, his passion is even more evident. His desire to “grow” the ministry is quite literal. The volunteers came this weekend to assist in the work of expanding the garden that is to become a showplace of possibility.
The basic frame of a 96-foot-long hoop structure greenhouse to house the area’s first large-scale commercial Aquaponics facility had been previously erected. Except for this structure, the almost one-third-acre plot was bare.
Volunteers assisted Green Phoenix Farms to stabilize the metal hoops and to add 2X6 bracing at ground level in preparation for stretching clear plastic over the hoops. Green Phoenix Farms, a Dallas-area Aquaponics educational and sales firm, is partnering with Feed by Grace on this community venture, through an agreement which will within a couple of years return ownership of the food-and-fish-production facility to the non-profit ministry.
Other volunteers put on gloves and began moving CMU blocks by truck and wheelbarrow from an adjacent lot; they stacked and leveled some to form the beginnings of compost bins and growing beds, mimicking another adjacent lot where crops from herbs to beets, from cabbage to snow peas are growing. By 11 a.m., some of the layers of clothing were removed, and the smiles grew broader.
The overall plan for this plot of land includes not only compost and produce, but a worm farm, chickens producing “farm fresh eggs,” the Aquaponics greenhouse which will supply year-round produce and fish, and a true community garden. Mansfield noted that Feed by Grace has received grant funds from Texas Christian University to develop the worm farm, and that the organization is involved “in earnest discussions with Meals on Wheels” for a future partnership.
Stuart Doyle, the high school and college pastor for North Richland Hills Baptist, worked right along with his teenage congregants. He noted later in the day that some of them want to return for additional work days, and to see the evolution of the Aquaponics facility, the planting beds, and the rest of the farm.