New Bethel AME Church | Barry Friedman, lkldnow

New Bethel AME Church is in the very early stages of creating a community garden.

“(We want) to provide more fresh vegetables for the (people) that we serve … increase the level of awareness for healthier options, (and) address (the) somewhat food desert that we have,” said the Rev. Eddie Lake, New Bethel’s pastor. New Bethel AME is located at 2122 Martin Luther King Jr., Ave, in one of Lakeland’s historically Black neighborhoods, with one grocery store in the area. 

According to Feeding America, more than 93,000 individuals in Polk County faced food insecurities in 2020. The U.S. Department of Agriculture describes food security as all people having access at all times to enough food for an active, healthy life.  

Lake came up with the idea for the garden this past summer, primarily as a way to supplement the church’s food pantry. Approximately 260 households and four other churches benefit from New Bethel’s food pantry. The food bundles include meat are intended to feed a family for a month. Lake said he believes it’s especially important for the children the church serves.

“Especially in early childhood, nutrition is very vital important piece of education for our children. The more healthy, the more nutritious meals the children have, the more they can think and grow and become productive citizens,” Lake said. 

A committee within the church will manage the garden initially, Lake said. In the future, church members plan to use its commercial kitchen to offer educational cooking classes on ways to prepare the fruits and vegetables. 

Lake, who said they are in the process of narrowing which vegetables they’ll grow first, hopes the garden will be up and running by July. 

“I’m very excited. Because I’m not a farmer, I’m not sure how it’s going to work. We’re looking at starting small. Two, possibly three vegetable options to begin with because none of this is fast in terms of growing,” Lake said, adding the church connected with some local gardening groups for assistance. 

The garden will be on the north side of the church in the rear parking lot.

The church hosts a food distribution every second Saturday of the month, beginning at 8 a.m. Food is generally all distributed by 10 a.m. The next one is scheduled for Jan. 14, 2023.

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Stephanie Claytor

Stephanie Claytor has been a broadcast and digital journalist in Lakeland since 2016, covering Polk County for Bay News 9 and currently free-lancing for LkldNow. She is an author of travel and children's books.

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