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In the Bible, planting is a metaphor for faith, pruning is a response to disobedience and the harvest is a blessing to be shared.
Those and other lessons come to life in the half-acre gardens of Passage Home, an East Raleigh faith-based nonprofit that helps its clients break out of poverty. Working in the community gardens is one of several job-training opportunities the agency offers; there are others in the construction and hospitality trades.
Like other job training, gardening values reliability, coming to work on time and staying on task. It also requires a certain toughness when the weather is especially cold or, as it has been this July, sweltering hot. Groups of four to five clients work in the garden at a time on an eight-week cycle.
Iman Rasheed, employment and education services manager for Passage Home, said the agency expects to serve 200 to 250 clients this year, some of them people who have been convicted of a crime and are looking for a second chance.
Rashad Reed, Passage Home’s job training coordinator and manager of the garden program, believes gardens are all about second chances. Every planting season is an opportunity for something new to burst from the ground.
“You are creating something from almost nothing,” Reed said as he watered a bed of tomato plants one late spring afternoon. “You’re planting a seed, seeing it grow through the process, and two months later, there are fruits and vegetables that you can see.
“It’s something that you can look forward to.”
Reed studied agriculture sciences at the University of Memphis, Florida A&M and Colorado State University and has worked in research labs and in the Colorado cannabis industry. When he joined Passage Home, he brought his greenhouse training with him to help extend the season at the gardens and provide a place to start plants from seed.
Even at their size, the gardens require more labor than trainees can provide. Volunteers come several days a week in the spring and summer. This year they helped clear more land and build raised gardens so it’s easier to control soil quality.
Money to start the gardens came from Bayer Crop Science, and nonprofits have made grants to keep it going.
Passage Home’s clients aren’t the only ones who benefit from the garden, Reed said. Neighbors are invited to visit and harvest food, and his conversations with them have helped Reed choose what to plant.
“They’re living in a food desert,” Reed said of the neighbors, and they’re delighted to be able to get fresh squash, mustard greens, beans and other vegetables. Reed likes to plant blueberries and blackberries for children to pick.
The gardens, on Branch Street and Mangum Street, are carefully tended oases in a neighborhood where rehabbed Victorian homes sit next to weathered shotgun houses.
“This is something that beautifies the whole neighborhood,” Reed said. “People look at this and get a feeling of growth rather than decay.”