Parishioners grow grapes, make communion wine
The Sharecropper family started in 2009 when several folks got together and decided that St. James needed a Community Garden. All we had were ideas, no one really knew exactly how to go about putting together this garden. After much research and some debate we decided to jump right in and learn by experience. All we really knew was that we were going to give 10 percent of everything we grew to the food pantry. The church put up the money to have our local water department install our own water meter. We purchased PVC pipe and installed it ourselves. We also built 13 raised beds out of pine boards. Every other bed has an irrigation pipe.
We also bought compost and soil amendments for each bed. One of our sharecroppers furnished fish he had caught and we held a fish fry at the church to raise money. This provided the necessary funds to complete the water system and buy the boards for the raised beds. We split the remaining balance of the cost among the original sharecroppers. We didn’t get everything in place early enough in 2009 to have a spring garden but we planted anyway. Almost nothing grew that first year except Okra, and some of us had bumper crops.
The second year we added a pantry garden. The 10 percent from each of our small plots was not really very much and we knew we could and should do better. The pantry garden is a plot that measures roughly 50x75 feet and 100 percent of our harvest from this plot goes to the Good Samaritan Food Pantry in our neighboring city of Mabank. Our first crop produced roughly 475 pounds of sweet potatoes, which the food pantry personnel suggested we grow because folks were asking for them.
2010 was the year we added a “rabbit proof” fence to keep out the little furry varmints. The rabbits seemed to believe that this was their own private dining room. The fence didn’t work. They came in even larger numbers.
Somewhere along the way it was suggested that we plant grapes so we could make our own communion wine, as well as fruit trees to provide fruit for those less fortunate. It seemed like a good idea at the time, but no one asked the question, “does anyone know how to make wine?”
Anyway, we spent many long days researching and decided what-the-heck. We built a trellis, support wires and planted 14 grapevines and nine fruit trees hoping to yield peaches, pears, plumbs and apples.
In 2011 we added a drip irrigation system. This saved about 70 percent in water usage and did away with the many long hours spent watering by hand. The orchard, vineyard and pantry garden are all on separate zones and can be watered independently. In 2011, in addition to sweet potatoes, we planted tomatoes, yellow squash and okra. We finished the year with a little over 550 pounds of produce going to the food pantry. We expected to do a lot better, but the worst summer in recent memory really hurt our efforts.
We consider 2012 as a good year for the Sharecroppers. We planted watermelons in the pantry garden along with tomatoes and okra. By the season’s end, we delivered more than 2,850 pounds to the food pantry. Our vineyard produced a bumper crop of grapes and our wine-making efforts were underway. We harvested almost 100 pounds of wine grapes and made almost eight finished-gallons of very good communion port wine. We also produced over 35 pounds of table grapes. In addition to the grapes, the vineyard produced two separate families of Mockingbirds. We also added the first non-parishioner to our St. James Sharecropper family.
2013 was a disappointing year for our small family. Over three quarters of our grape vines developed Pierce's Disease, which kills the vine in a short time. Our watermelons did not do as well as expected. We only produced about 3,000 pounds of melons and some turned out to be “not very good”. Our individual plots however produced record numbers of tomatoes and other veggies, which made everyone very happy campers.
2014 was a great year for the sharecroppers. We added two additional non-parishioners to our gardening family bringing the total to four. They are from our local community, and are very excited about our long-term efforts. Our watermelon harvest was very good this year. We delivered a record number of watermelons of over 4,800 pounds and they were great-tasting. We planted 11 new grape vines. (Pierce’s Disease resistant). It will be two years before we will allow them to produce grapes. Their root system needs that much time to establish itself.
We are currently making plans for future gardens. We are raising money to bring in some topsoil for our raised beds and plant blackberry vines along our east fence. The pantry garden will receive a new load of mulch and we will be ready to plant more produce.
All in all we are a very blessed group of folks. God is good.