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Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News
Maria Steinbach plants a seed as volunteers at St. James Episcopal Parish plant seeds at the church to get a head start on their community garden in Midvale Sunday, March 2, 2014.

MIDVALE — Members of the St. James Episcopal Parish gathered outside on Sunday to plant seeds for the church's community garden that helps feed about 600 families during the summer.

Parishioner Valerie Pitcher, who started the garden in 2009, said it began as eight, 16-square-foot boxes that provided produce for six families within the parish. Since then, the church has become a distribution center for the Utah Food Bank, and the garden now serves a much larger portion of the community.

"Over the years, it's grown to 48 boxes," she said. "We now feed approximately 600 families, which translates into thousands of people. It's just been an amazing harvest."

On Sunday, seeds of flowers, eggplants, tomatoes and peppers were planted in cartons that will be kept indoors until after Mother's Day when they will be transplanted to the garden, Pitcher said.

"The fact that it's organic makes it a big deal," Pitcher said. "There are many of us who can't afford to buy organic food because it's twice as much as what you would purchase otherwise. So this provides an opportunity for people to have healthy food."

Pitcher says there are other benefits to working in a garden in addition to a bountiful harvest.

"We've had people who have never had anything of their own, but they had their own box to plant and that was a big deal," she said.

"I think we've become complacent about our food," Pitcher continued. "We take for granted that we can get strawberries in February because they are transported to us. I think we need to stay in touch with our ability to feed ourselves and take care of ourselves."

Associate Rector Jan Kotuby said the unique talents of dozens of contributors have made the garden what it is.

"Everybody's gotten involved in different aspects," she said. "All the members of the community get involved in planting, harvesting and making sure things are done well. It's been a great place for people to give their time and talents."

Terry Palmer, who works with high school-age kids at the parish, said the garden is an enjoyable service opportunity for the youth.

"It's fun for the kids," she said. "Last year, we came and pulled weeds and just talked. And the harvest is very satisfying."

"Everybody's willing to help, and that's what makes it work," Pitcher said.

Email: mjacobsen@deseretnews.com