For two Owensboro churches, their community gardens have become unique ways to serve their neighborhoods.

On Daviess Street, First Christian Church’s garden goes toward helping refugees living nearby and across the city.

Among those refugees is Maung Tinso Kyaw who came from Myanmar about 10 years ago.

Kyaw has prepped the soil inside his designated raised garden as he prepares to plant vegetables for his family.

Tomatoes, chiles and cucumbers are among the vegetables that he’s considering this year.

“We like fresh vegetables and it saves us money,” said Kyaw, a 38-year-old refugee who has one child and another on the way with his wife.

The site contains 36 raised gardens that are maintained solely by refugee families.

And some of the gardens have already been planted with greens starting to peek through the soil.

Along with having his own raised bed, Kyaw helps oversee the entire garden and recruits new families when one bed opens up.

Janet Luckett is Kyaw’s contact at First Christian.

Luckett credited the late Carol Mark for the concept and pushing to establish the garden more than 10 years ago.

“She was a former engineer and knew how to get things going,” Luckett said. “So without her, we probably wouldn’t have ever gotten it off the ground.”

To overcome the language barrier, Kyaw is Luckett’s go-between when it comes to communicating with other refugee families.

Luckett said this community garden is different in that refugees are the caretakers and the ones who benefit from it.

“Each family from the refugees will take a box and it’s their box,” she said.

Just west of the First Christian garden is the St. Stephen Cathedral Community Garden that’s located at the corner of Cedar and 7th streets.

Longtime St. Stephen members Mark and Martha Sims volunteered last year to help maintain the garden and they returned this year as the coordinators of it as well.

“We both were just recently retired so we wanted to do something with volunteering,” Martha Sims said. “Then when COVID came, it really provided a means of getting out of the house. We tilled everything up last year and got the gardens ready.”

Similar to First Christian’s garden, the vegetables are planted in raised beds.

The Simses also help recruit fellow parishioners to help grow and maintain the garden, which contains more than 20 raised beds.

“Each individual who chooses to be involved takes a plot and they mainly do their tilling and all that themselves,” Mark Sims said. “They plant what they want.”

An array of herbs and vegetables are grown, with tomatoes among the most popular item.

And what’s grown is fair game.

“It is what the name implies; it’s a community garden,” Martha Sims said. “So anybody who wants to harvest some of the fruits or vegetables they’re welcome to and get whatever they would like.”

The Simses also try to let people know when the vegetables are ripe.

“We do let our parishioners know when it’s ready so they can pick it and maybe take to someone who’s a shut-in or can’t get to it themselves,” Mark Sims said.

The Simses said they’re eager to get another planting season started.

“It’s rewarding … and the neighbors tell you how grateful they are,” Martha Sims said. “…It’s a little bit of a reward just knowing that people enjoy the plants, seeing it all grow and being able to use the produce out of it.”

Don Wilkins, dwilkins@messenger-inquirer.com, 270-691-7299

Don Wilkins, dwilkins@messenger-inquirer.com, 270-691-7299

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