ANDERSON — Dirty fingernails and green thumbs are signs of a spiritual connection at a local community garden.
Growing Anderson, 1722 E. 22nd St., a 501(c)3 community garden, started on a blighted property on Vinyard Street. Four years later, it outgrew its plot. Now the garden has partnered with Northview Church's Anderson campus, sharing fellowship, food and a fun place to dig for Anderson residents.
The partnership was cemented in late March, which gave volunteers about a month to move from their old space to a lot next to the church, Growing Anderson founder Lisa Singleton said.
"We had to literally uproot ourselves," she said. "We had a window of about a month to move everything we had before our last frost, and we did it."
The garden has 45 raised beds growing 35 varieties of vegetables, including tomatoes, zucchini and squash, as well as many herbs, Singleton said. Singleton doesn't have an official title. She can be called the garden manager, but she referred to herself as "the go-to person."
The partnership with Northview made sense because both the church and the garden donate to the Christian Center. The garden needed more volunteers and the church has a mission to be involved in the community as much as possible, she said.
Julie Johnson and Darlene Robinson said they usually volunteer on Wednesday mornings after their Bible study at the church.
"The fellowship is really special," Robinson said. "We get to tell people who just drive by about what we're doing, spread the word. We socialize. Some people around here just come hang out to visit, not even work. It doesn't feel like work."
Some people will drive by with their windows down and shout, "I love it!" Others come by to make use of the small library fronting the garden. Some of the neighbors near the garden have gotten involved in their own ways, Singleton said.
"One woman said she's not big into gardening, but she knows ferns, she knows flowers," she said. "So she planted ferns and flowers here. Not everyone is into gardening. She volunteered her own skill set and that was incredible."
A common thread sprouted up among the volunteers, Singleton said. They all stick around.
"Everyone who comes here feels connected to the outdoors," she said. "They feel a sense of communion with the soil, the earth and God. I just love it. It's the most peaceful place on Earth."
Brittany Shewmaker, Northview's ministry assistant, said Singleton shines when it comes to the garden.
"Lisa is incredible," she said. "She's humble, she spends hours on end out there working. For lack of a better word, she has really blossomed. She thrives out there. She has such a servant's heart."
In addition to donations to the Christian Center, Growing Anderson sets up tables throughout the city to give food to people who need it, as well as offering meals through the church.
Singleton said she never stresses about giving away produce, even if someone would take it without asking.
"Sometimes people ask me about vandalism or stealing: 'Well aren't you worried?'" she said. "No, if someone takes the produce, they clearly have a need. I'm glad to meet that need. That's why we're here."
Follow Laura Arwood on Twitter @lauraarwood or call 765-648-4284.