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Orem interfaith garden enjoys bounteous harvest of 'good'

Published: Saturday, Sept. 15 2012 5:00 a.m. MDT

Tino Olivera planted pumpkins in the interfaith garden so children whose parents can't afford to buy a pumpkin for Halloween can have one.

Joseph Walker

OREM — Tino Olivera loads the last cardboard box filled with potatoes into the back of his small, well-used pickup truck. Perspiration glistens on his forehead in the late summer morning sun as he slams the tailgate shut and squeezes a bucket of tomatoes into a corner of the truck bed.

“There!” he proclaims as he smiles broadly and moves quickly to the driver’s side door of the pickup. “Let’s get this out there doing good!”

The “good” to which Olivera refers is something he knows and understands intimately. Born and raised in an impoverished village in southern Mexico, he has known hunger. Even here in the United States, he is working two full-time jobs in order to make ends meet. So when he has an opportunity to give good, healthy food to people who might otherwise do without — yes, as far as he’s concerned, that’s “doing good.”

Olivera is the primary overseer of a large interfaith community garden project involving members of the Orem Community Church, to which he belongs, as well as the Orem Stonewood 4th Ward of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and a Spanish-speaking Assemblies of God congregation. The clearing of the ground, the planting of the vegetables (which were provided by a member of the LDS ward) and the weeding of the garden has been an interfaith effort, with members of all three congregations taking their turns in providing service. But the day-to-day maintenance of the garden, including watering and pest control, has been up to Olivera — in part because he lives right next door, but mostly because “I like to help the community,” he said.

In fact, Don Pendergrass, the head of the Orem Community Church council, credits Olivera for coming up with the idea for turning the half-acre plot of ground just north of the church into a garden as a way of providing food for the needy. When it became clear that the job was a little too big for just the Community Church congregation to handle, they enlisted the support of the other church groups, and an interfaith project was born.

In addition to tomatoes and potatoes, the garden features bell peppers, zucchini, jalapeno peppers, corn, green beans and pumpkins (“I didn’t want the kids to have to buy pumpkins for Halloween,” Olivera said). Ever since the harvest started in mid-August, Olivera and his pickup have made two trips a week to several different humanitarian projects to deliver produce for those in need.

“We have taken 2,000 pounds of tomatoes and 400 pounds of potatoes to the food bank,” he said, referring to Community Action Services & Food Bank in Provo. He reached out his hand and gestured toward rows of tomato plants still heavy with green tomatoes, and rows of potatoes still buried in the ground. “We have another 700 or 800 pounds of potatoes that still need to come out, and a lot of tomatoes.”

He laughs in sheer delight. He doesn’t view it as more work that needs to be done. He sees it as more opportunities to do good.

“This is a true community garden,” he said. “People in the church, people in the community, if they need food they come and get it. That’s OK. That’s how we do it. It’s here for people to use.”

When he heard that the food bank in American Fork needed produce, a load was sent there, too.

“We are providing meals for poor people, right here from this garden,” Olivera said as he looked out over the abundant plants and vines. “I feel grateful that we are able to help someone else.”

At the food bank in Provo on Wednesday, Olivera backed his pickup against the delivery dock and unloaded the day’s harvest. Boxes of red and white potatoes were dumped into a large orange bin, and boxes of Roma and Beefsteak tomatoes were piled on top. Somewhere in one of the tomato boxes was a lone zucchini squash that Olivera had picked while showing a guest around the garden and couldn’t bring himself to waste.

Carol Johnson, a volunteer program assistant at the food bank, wheeled the bin to the scale and announced that today’s donation from the interfaith garden weighed in at 500 pounds. Olivera smiled broadly at the announcement.

“Thank you so much,” Johnson said as she handed him a receipt for the donation. “You and your church group did good today.”

Which is exactly what Olivera and his religious associates from the Orem Community Church, the Orem Stonewood 4th Ward and the Assemblies of God had in mind when they planted the garden last spring.

Doing good.

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