Rev. Tracie Ashley in front of the community garden at Grace Community United Methodist Church in Lithia. (Photo courtesy of Linda Chion.)

In bloom is the vision for a community garden at Grace Community United Methodist Church in Lithia, where Rev. Tracie Ashley believes any effort to address food scarcity is a blessing for today’s economic and inflationary pressures.

“We want it to be [a] place for the community to grow things” for themselves and for church dinners, said Rev. Tracie, who, as co-pastor at Grace Community, works with her husband, Rev. Erick Ashley. “And for people who find themselves with food scarcity, the garden will be a place where they can get good, healthy, organic vegetables at no cost.”

Efforts to plant Grace Community’s garden began before the pandemic, which in turn caused a pause in development. Now, “a small, but very excited” group of volunteers, including a soil expert and an expert in seeds, “are wanting to put their own skills into this for the benefit of the community,” Rev. Tracie said. “Others of us, who are willing hands, we want to get into the dirt and be part of a movement.”

According to Rev. Tracie, colleagues around in the community garden movement serve as an inspiration for Grace Community’s vision. “Their gardens not only are beautiful, but they also draw the community together for a purpose,” Rev. Tracie said. “What could be better, people coming together, connecting and feeding others.”

Likewise, that is what draws Rev. Tracie to preaching at the pulpit. “Our mission is to create a community where all people can experience God’s transforming grace,” she said. “We’re really doing the same things, it’s just not with dirt.”

Rev. Tracie said it’s a good antidote to what ails us in post-pandemic times to ask churchgoers and community members to plant a community garden together.

“We had a pandemic, I think now there’s an epidemic of loneliness,” Rev. Tracie said. “This [community garden] is like going back to the basics, connecting to the earth and caring for the earth, and connecting to each other and caring for each other.”

Indeed, “you get in the dirt, you work side by side, and you just miraculously grow things and it nourishes someone else,” she said. “That’s what it’s all about.”

Grace Community United Methodist Church is at 5708 Lithia Pinecrest Rd. in Lithia. For more information, visit or call 813-661-8858.

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