In a matter of minutes, Stacy Varon has me thinking anyone could take up this community gardening for the less privileged—would enjoy it, might even love it. She's alight with happiness at the prospect. And not just for the Farragut Christian Church food pantry patrons, and the battered women and homeless who will benefit from this bountiful 1/3-acre side plot alongside St. Elizabeth's Episcopal Church. No, she's also tickled for the 20-30 people who work the garden—nearly a fifth the number who regularly attend this airy, tasteful place of worship on a given Sunday.
"I love to garden," says Stacy, the parish administrator of four years. "There's such a meditative quality to pulling weeds, such a sense of satisfaction when a plot is completely weeded. I really can't say enough good things about gardening. I always tell people they should, even if all they have is pots."
Stacy's not the instigator of the project, she's quick to remind you. A group from the church decided two years ago that there had to be something they could do "more than mow" the south-facing lot next to their parking lot, remembers volunteer John Tomlinson, a retired ORNL-type. "Look at the property—it was self evident," he says. "Especially with the economy sinking and all."
John's helped set up five compost bins for the project and found a 750-gallon tank to turn into a cistern on Craigslist, but he quickly says he's not the lead on the project, either. "This church has a lot of Indians and not many chiefs." The main mover and raker is Jean Hayes, who knows gardening and is out there most every day. But I didn't get to meet Jean, not yet, just Stacy, and Stacy is enough to make me want to follow this band of humble, humorous pitchers-in down the garden path. While she chats on about her sage seedlings at home, I've got my detector out, the one I use to sort over-zealous churchgoers who will eventually work around to insisting I share their faith. But it never goes off; no alarms signaling the hard sell, or any sell at all. Though I've definitely bought into the idea that I should be cooking stuffed peppers for dinner. Like the ones in the big grocery bags full that another parishioner, Vernon Britton, just harvested this morning. Probably everyone should cook stuffed peppers tonight, like Stacy says: "They're so easy, and they make the house smell heavenly."
Just the way she gives the instructions, you can tell Stacy thinks we all cook; all can cook; will all be just as happy as she is when we get home from work and these are waiting for us. It's in the way she describes the garlic powder—"You ask yourself, ‘Does that look like enough?'" I've already fallen in with her plans, am planning to buy lean ground meat on the way home, as she walks me to the door. And oh, what pertinent parting words. "Did you see?" she asks. "Our theme for service this year is really good—Bloom Where You Are Planted." m
Stacy Varon's Crock Pot Stuffed Peppers
1. Mash 1 lb. ground turkey; 1 1/2 cups cooked rice; half an onion, minced; 1/2 tsp. garlic powder; black pepper to taste; and one egg "like you would for meatloaf."
2. Chop the tops off four green bell peppers (red if you don't like the "bite" of cooked green peppers), pull seeds and ribs out, rinse, pat dry, and stuff with mixture.
3. Place directly in slow cooker. Pour a 28 oz. can of fine dice tomatoes on top. Put lid on. Store in fridge until morning.
4. Turn slow cooker to low while you're at work (or 6-8 hours).
5. Remove peppers, turn to high until sauce is reduced by half.
6. To serve, cut peppers in half, ladle sauce on top, sprinkle with Parmesan.