Community garden remains open

The Rev. Ed Umbach stands by the community garden at First Presbyterian Church in Lenoir City.

Despite canceling in-person services, First Presbyterian Church in Lenoir City plans on continuing its community garden.

The ministry, which was started in 2008 during the last economic crisis, has been a staple at the church for 13 years.

The Rev. Ed Umbach, pastor, said at that time he thought “a lot of people may need to have this to supplement,” so the extra land next to the church was turned into a community garden.

“What we do, any individual can have (a plot), church members or non-church members. It makes no difference,” Umbach said. “There’s no cost and water is available at the site, and so anybody can grow whatever they want. We have some folks that just grow flowers. We have others that grow pumpkins, you know, the usual tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, those kinds of things.”

What a person grows is up to them, Umbach said. He estimates the garden had 21 plots of various crops last year.

While 21 plots may seem like a lot, Umbach is positive there is plenty of room to grow. He said the garden can “keep going down the hill to the railroad tracks” until every inch of usable land is planted. The garden also offers a chance for individuals to give back to the community, and gardeners can help each other.

“I know a lot of folks will take their surplus and put it out in the blessing box for folks,” he said. “You know, it really is a sense of community, because if somebody’s out on vacation, somebody else from the garden will water their plot for them and weed it while they’re gone, and they just share ideas. They share seeds. They share gardening tips with each other. It really is a neat ministry.”

For more information on claiming a plot, contact the church at 865-986-3901 or

“There’s a couple of fellows in the church that kind of oversee it,” Umbach said. “They were farmers themselves, and they kind of take on the role of assigning the plots and making sure it gets plowed every year and cleaned up every year, that kind of thing.”

Neal Denton, church member, has used multiple plots over the years. He started using First Presbyterian’s community garden a couple years ago because he could not do so at his home.

“It gives me a chance to grow some fresh vegetables for my family and my in-laws enjoy it,” Denton said. “It’s a great way to have some camaraderie with people that enjoy gardening like I do. It gives us an opportunity to work together, and it’s a really good ministry for the church.”

Denton said the garden gives members of the congregation something in common to talk about and bond over. In addition, it gets the community outside the church involved.

With everyone taking precautions against COVID-19, the garden offers the community a chance to stay active in a safe way.

“When it dries up enough, I have full intentions of going in there and putting together my garden,” Denton said. “I think that’s just going to be a part of life that I want to keep going on with even though there may be some risk, but it’s going to be pretty minimal if you’re out in the open air and out in the garden.”