Ten-year-old Isaiah Clardy prayed three years ago for a garden. He remembers it was for “people that didn’t have food,” but doesn’t recall what led him to make the same prayer request continually each night before going to sleep.
For several weeks, the then seven-year-old Conway boy asked God to bring rain to help the garden grow. At the time, though, there was no garden in the ground. His parents, Mike and Julie Clardy, were a bit mystified.
“He prayed that God would provide a garden for the people,” Julie said.
They reasoned the prayer might have to do with Isaiah’s grandparents farm in Galivants Ferry. As Mike and Julie sat in a pew of Union United Methodist Church one Sunday about three weeks later, they came to understand the result of their son’s petition. Their pastor at the time, the Rev. Scott Johnson, announced from the pulpit that the church was looking to start a community garden project.
“Michael and I just started crying,” Julie said. “We looked at each other and just said, ‘Whoa.’”
The Clardys weren’t the only ones amazed.
“That just blows my mind,” Terri Alford said.
Terri, along with husband, Francis, help in the care taking of the garden Isaiah prayed for and is now located beside Union’s sanctuary at 4491 U.S. 701 South. This is the garden’s third season of growing and giving away free produce to anyone who needs it.
“It really started with just the need, filling a void in the community,” Terri said. “It was just something that we could do.”
The church is giving away vegetables each Saturday from about 8 a.m. to 11 a.m., or until the fresh produce runs out. Already in are squash, zucchini and cucumbers, with green beans expected to be harvested by Saturday. Coming up on the menu will be potatoes, tomatoes, cabbage, okra and other straight-from-the-ground goodness.
“It’s all coming,” Terri said. “July is going to be busy.”
The produce is offered freely with no strings attached. “The garden is for anybody who wants, desires or needs good, fresh vegetables,” she said.
Terri has an answer for those who worry the church may be taken advantage of in its generosity.
“We take advantage of God’s grace everyday,” she said. “It’s not up to me to make that decision” of who is deserving. “That’s on each person’s heart that comes.”
Terri’s husband, Francis, said the community garden serves a wide variety of people in the community. “We get some needy people and we get lawyers,” he said. “It’s a local thing. Everybody loves fresh vegetables.”
Those who aren’t as needy financially generally make a donation to the garden effort as they stop by to select from the array of lovingly grown bounty.
An open hand
Terri, who formerly worked in the grocery industry, knows firsthand the struggles her neighbors have in making healthy food choices on a limited budget.
“The food that is best for our bodies is the most expensive,” she said.
The current Bucksport Water System employee remembers grocery store customers faced with the decision of which items to put back when the cash register total was more than what was in their wallet.
“It was disheartening to see the choices people make because of money,” she said. “I saw what they chose and what they put back. I watched people choose chips over green beans.”
While the vegetables are offered freely and without questions, the church does have a limited supply, depending on the week’s crop.
“Our goal is not to fill people’s freezers,” Terri said. “Our goal is to give families a meal or two a week.”
The garden also serves another purpose. It helps the Conway community get to know what the people of Union are all about.
“They can actually see, feel and touch what we’re doing,” Francis said.
That’s part of the specialness of the Saturday giveaways. Union folks are out each week to not only hand out the vegetables, but enjoy having conversations with those who stop by.
A bowed head
In the three years Union’s community garden has sprouted, Isaiah has helped pick and plant a few of its items. He’s still saying those prayers. Right now he’s interceding for his mom, who is heading out on a July mission trip to a South African orphanage.
“I’m praying for Mama for when she goes to Africa,” the rising homeschooled fifth grader said.
Isaiah, who enjoys Legos, baseball, basketball, art and painting, believes all people should pray.
“I pray every night,” he said.
He also believes God answers when we speak to Him.
“My grandpa has dementia, and I prayed for him to feel better and he feels a lot better,” Isaiah explained.
The boy with the big heart also knows those seeking an answer from God may not always get one right away.
“If you don’t, it’s okay because God won’t hurt you. He’s not mean. He is good,” Isaiah said.
But that should never stop the prayers.
“God always hears you,” Isaiah said. “He also knows what you want to say and what you don’t want to say.”
Julie said her eldest son is intuitive, thoughtful, and good with younger kids, including his siblings, Laura Ellen, 6, and Vivien, 4.
“He’s a protector, he really is,” his mom said. “We’ve always felt he was destined for big things for God.”