As soon as one arrives at God’s Garden, it is easy to feel the importance of this place. Perhaps it is the amazing views of the Bridgers and Spanish Peaks, the seemingly endless rows of vegetables dotted with volunteers, the warm “welcome” of God’s Garden founder, Dale McNichols, or a combination of all of these. God’s Garden was established in 2009 to solve a critical community need: a lack of fresh vegetables available to those utilizing the Gallatin Valley Food Bank and Community Cafe, both programs of HRDC. Since its founding eight years ago, God’s Garden has donated 175,157 pounds of food, and has already donated 6,000 pounds of food this year with more left to harvest.
God’s Garden expertly models how the collaboration of many organizations and individuals can make an even greater impact upon our community. Elizabeth Dillon and Nicole Snodgrass, volunteer coordinator and head chef of the Community Cafe, respectively, note that produce from God’s Garden is one of many sources for fruit and vegetable donations that the cafe relies upon to meet nutritional standards set by the federal government. However, produce from God’s Garden provides the opportunity for produce to be both fresh and local! Dillon notes that “[the Cafe’s] customers like the frequency of fresh local vegetables and fruit that is on the menu (as opposed to canned or preserved items). We’ve gotten many compliments on the food since we moved away from canned items and I think the improved menu has attracted many folks who had not come for dinner in the past, to come in and have a meal”. Produce from God’s Garden then is able to amplify the impact of the Cafe’s work by increasing the nutritional value and making the Cafe a great place for people of all income levels to eat and hopefully “pay-it-forward” for others.
God’s Garden sits on land generously donated by lifetime Gallatin Valley residents, Frank and Marilyn Carter, and also engages countless other folks from all walks of life in giving back to their community. On any given day, volunteers from local and distant faith-based and youth development organizations can be found among the rows of vegetables.
Dale tells the story of one group from a YMCA in Massachusetts that came to God’s Garden one day on a Yellowstone and Teton service trip. The youth on the trip elected to spend their trip free day continuing harvest at the Garden and even collected a $61 offering to give to God’s Garden with spending money leftover at the end of the trip. Dale highlighted the importance of out of town service groups by saying, “the garden would not have had enough volunteers this year without these out of town groups.” Participants in Eagle Mount’s horticulture program were one of many local groups who volunteered this year as were youth from a local group home who were instrumental in bringing in the green bean crop.
God’s Garden’s only paid employee is a young man involved in Big Sky Youth Empowerment’s (BYEP) Work Placement Program (a 2015 BACF grantee). This program partners with local businesses and nonprofits to employ at-risk youth for 20 hours each week during the summer. The work experience helps these youth build their resumes and BYEP provides coaching on work skills, goal setting, and value development through a mentorship program to support further success of program participants.
Through the many volunteers that come and go at God’s Garden, one man, Dale McNichols, works every day year-round to keep the garden functioning. Dale is responsible for every aspect of the garden’s success from finding the necessary funding to recruiting volunteers to overseeing the daily operations of the garden. Dale serves as a living embodiment of God’s Garden’s motto, “people feeding people.” Because of Dale, countless people in our community are fed with nourishing food and also with inspiration to help others and develop creative solutions to our community’s challenges.
If you are interested in giving your time, talents, or treasures to help God’s Garden’s mission of “people feeding people”, contact Dale at 406.219.3165.