Grow Food, Feed People, Build Community

Melissa Thwing

Melissa Thwing

Social Media & Marketing Manager

It all started in 2008 with a plot of land and a prayer.

Looking back on the story now, it seems like God was sowing His master plan all along.

Marilyn Dean was new to Kensington Church—didn’t know a soul. After meeting Campus Director Nancy Wurm at a Discovering Kensington class, she accepted her invitation to meet up. Over a cup of coffee, the two talked about their hobbies, interests, dreams, which included Marilyn’s passion for gardening.

This is where God comes in and does that dot-connecting, unifying master plan thing that we read about in scripture. I can sense him smiling, shaking his head, when Marilyn found her way to Nancy…then eventually to Nicolette.

“How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity!” Psalm 133:1

After learning about the Oakland Hills Community Garden—a peaceful, vast plot of land where toiling, planting and harvesting was plentiful—she treaded her feet through the dirt to see if for herself. Marilyn was greeted by the woman behind the oasis, Nicolette Jenaras. She’s warm, welcoming, and has that personality that immediately makes you feel like you’ve known her forever.

The roots of the garden

The land that is now the Oakland Hills Community Garden was once home to Nicolette’s family. Her father trained show horses and was a successful equestrian.

Nicolette pointed back toward the house that stands in the distance, “that’s the home I grew up in.”

After her parents passed away, the land was rented and used as a dumping grounds for horse manure. Unsure of the purpose and future of the property, but sure God had bigger plans than its current use, Nicolette prayed about how it could be used to glorify God. With a little nudge of encouragement from her friend Nancy, Nicolette knew it was time to plant a garden.

(Are you connecting the dots, here?)

The seed that was planted more than 12 years ago has grown into a community garden that feeds many people in need surrounding Lake Orion.

First named Elizabeth’s Garden in remembrance of Nicolette’s mother, the garden’s mission is to grow food, feed people and build community.

“This is in her memory,” Nicolette said. “She just would have loved this. She would have been out here passing out lemonade.”

Grow Food, Feed People, Build Community

Last year, over 4 tons of food grown by faithful volunteers were donated and delivered to homeless shelters and food banks like the Grace Centers of Hope, Sprout, the Baldwin Center in Pontiac, Lighthouse, and many others.

The garden is also used to teach children about how to grow food. Marilyn shared a story of a group of teens who—somewhat unenthusiastically—came out to volunteer. Not fond about the bugs and getting their hands dirty, they left with green beans and a giddy excitement.

The learning doesn’t stop there. Oakland University maintains a strawberry growing patch at the garden.

“It’s open to everyone,” Nicolette said. “Whether they want to stop by and garden and then grab some fresh food or they want to come on a regular basis, this garden is a place of refuge and invitation.”

They’ve even added honeybees to the mix, all with the helping hands of volunteers.

In addition to a peaceful oasis away from the business of life, the garden has also become a place of community for many people who volunteer on a regular basis. The friendship between Marilyn and Nicolette wasn’t the only one that sprouted from the garden. One couple who met at the garden tied the knot right on the grounds where it all started.

“After the ceremony, we all worked in the garden,” Marilynn said. “It was so much fun.”

Some organizations are even making the garden a community building and serving opportunity for their team. In the summer, teams from Fiat Chrysler Automotive leave their desk jobs and get their hands dirty on a bi-weekly basis.

Whether or not the people who enter the garden have faith in God, Marilynn said that Oakland Hills Community Garden is a place where many people leave changed.

A stone in the ground at the entrance of the garden reads, “One is nearer God’s heart in a garden than anywhere else on earth.”

“When I’m out here, I can just feel the presence of God,” Nicolette added.

Get Involved

To get involved with the Oakland Hills Community Garden, visit Kensington’s online Move Out Network. The garden is open to all ages and no green thumb is necessary!

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