Feeding Stomachs And Souls

It’s a warm morning, and I’m sitting outside under a canopy listening to Rev. Wesley B. Elmore, pastor of Lihu‘e United Church. Along with the Sunday morning sermon, the church is hosting a celebration to present funds for its organic Garden Project.

In the garden, bright marigolds add balls of color to a bed of leafy greens. Rows of lettuce, beets, rainbow chard, onions, eggplant, bok choy, tat soi, green beans and herbs reach for the sky. A line of taro plants runs along the edge, their wide leaves bent toward the sun.

Banana trees border the back of the 50-by-70-foot garden, and breadfruit trees from National Tropical Botanical Garden will be planted soon.

Directly behind the pastor is a table laden with the garden’s bounty. Broad collard greens spring from a basket. Another is filled with kale, basil, slender Japanese eggplant and purple globe eggplant.

Normally, proceeds from the church’s annual Labor Day breakfast benefit local charities. This year, the church is giving it back to the garden. Standing next to pastor Elmore is Paula Cobb, a parishioner who also is the garden coordinator. The pastor presents Cobb with a check for $3,709 from the church.

“The food from this garden goes to the Loaves and Fishes Food Pantry at St. Michael and All Angels Episcopal Church,” Pastor Elmore explains. “Typically the food pantry has saimin, canned food, peanut butter, but we want to provide fresh food for people who are food insufficient.

“What does that mean?” Elmore asks his congregation. “People may have money for a week or two, but maybe not for a month. They need food to make it through.”

Every Wednesday at 7:30 a.m., Cobb and a group of volunteers harvest produce and deliver it to Loaves and Fishes. From 9:30 to 11 a.m., those in need line up and receive freshly harvested organic produce.

The Tongan Ministry Choir, led by Simana Fifita, begins to sing. I don’t understand the words, yet the beauty of their voices moves me. I send their aloha across the ocean to a friend who has just lost her husband.

“We collect for Heifer International,” says Elmore, as the keiki pass around a collection plate. “If we provide a goat, the milk from the goat can be used to make cheese. A heifer or cow, chickens or rabbits give families sustenance and a way to earn a living.” Heifer International’s mission is to work with communities to end hunger and poverty and care for the earth.

Cobb started the garden in March 2010 after volunteering at a food bank and noticing the need for fresh food. She took an 11-week sustainable gardening course at Kaua‘i Community College and learned about The Village Green, which designs, implements and refines sustainable systems of food production and distribution that contribute to food self-sufficiency for Kaua‘i.

“We put together a proposal for the church that captured what they wanted to do,” says Anny Bruch, chief operating officer for The Village Green. “After a couple of reiterations, we figured out the food preferences of the people who get the food, how big the garden should be to meet the need and how we could make it a sustainable garden.”

“We’ve had a lot of help,” says garden volunteer Yvonne Johnson. “We’ve received donations for the harvest shed from Steve Spears of Kaua‘i Habitat for Humanity, Kukui‘ula Real Estate development, Home Depot, Ace Hardware, Walmart, Growing Greens Nursery, and Kento Caya and Pete Fontanella donated their time to build it.”

“The community can help by donating seeds and volunteering at the garden,” says Cobb. “Planting seeds for starts, helping on harvest day and, of course, we also can use help with the hard work: weeding, planting, tilling and cultivating. If you have an overflow of fruit or vegetables, you can bring them here on Wednesday morning before 9 a.m.”

Part of today’s celebration includes lunch made with vegetables from the garden. Parishioners line up for steamed taro, eggplant Parmesan, salad, lemon cake and Tongan laulau made with corned beef and coconut milk.

“We’re doing this because this is what we’re supposed to do as Christians,” says Elmore, “to be part of a mission for the world. As a church, this is just one way to do it.”

Lihu‘e United Church 4340 Nawiliwili Road, 245-6552

Marta Lane is a Kaua‘i-based food writer. For more information, visit TastingKauai.com.