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Abundance at Anathoth

Garden of Reconciliation
In the small farming town of Cedar Grove, N.C., an unsolved murder helped whites and blacks imagine a better future

music is not like ours” and “we worship differently.”

“I knew some of her struggles, as far as what you hear on the street, plus the little things my mother would tell me,” Valee Taylor says. “I knew that it was not going to be easy on either side.” But he assured her that members of the black community stood behind her.

Hackney remembers hearing Scenobia describe the controversy as “the devil on my back.” 

“She said she didn’t realize it was going to be this hard,” Hackney says. “I shared that I was having difficulty as well, and we prayed together.” But at this point, she and the Taylors weren’t sure if the plan could succeed.

They struggled through 2004 and 2005 to gain consensus for the project. In Hackney’s church, a quiet majority of parishioners and supervisors ended up supporting her.

“My district superintendent said to me, ‘Just keep your face pointed toward Jerusalem, where God’s calling you to go, and everything else will be taken care of.’ I had a lot of folks who stood behind me in this congregation, and people would leave church with tears in their eyes, saying, ‘Thank you for having the courage to say that.’”

By 2005, the council of Cedar Grove United Methodist Church decided to accept the Taylors’ land and to start a community garden, providing the church didn’t have to pay for upkeep. The lawsuit filed by the Taylors’ extended family members was eventually dropped. A groundbreaking ceremony for Anathoth Garden was held in November of that year.

Today, Anathoth is a small organic farm, thanks to grants from The Duke Endowment, and lots of community effort. There’s a greenhouse, a children’s play area, a meditation garden with native plants, and two acres of crops.

During an early summer tour of the garden, Hackney points out rows of garlic and asparagus, squash and carrots, turnips, cilantro, a variety of lettuces, onions, strawberries, and sweet potatoes.

Nearly every morning volunteers arrive to work under the watchful eyes of a garden director and interns. Anyone can join. A contribution of $5 a year and two hours of work per week earns people the right to take home as many vegetables as they need. Hackney says it’s nice to be in a place where everyone is welcome.

“There’s no judgment, and there’s no proselytizing,” Hackney says. “It’s a living witness of how we embody and receive this life that God has made possible for us on this planet.”

Hackney and Taylor sit on a big deck near a pavilion where garden members hold community potlucks every week. But they both know that Hackney’s time in Cedar Grove is coming to an end. At first, he explains, he hated the thought of her leaving.

“But then the more I’ve prayed over it,  ... I came to reckoning that she’s carrying the word on. I don’t think her work is done.”

Hackney knows she will miss Cedar Grove, but says it’s time for her to move on. “I really do feel like I’ve done what God has called me to do here, and I have to trust that God is calling me to go somewhere else.”

She looks forward to finding out what is in store for her at Mt. Bethel United Methodist Church in Bahama, N.C., in northern Durham County. Meanwhile, the work of Anathoth Garden will continue. On any morning you’ll find people of every color and background planting, weeding, and cultivating hundreds of pounds of vegetables that will be distributed back into the community they’re grown in.

Audio Extras

Listen to the original North Carolina Public Radio broadcast at WUNC 91.5 FM.

Postscript

Grace Hackney D’03 is getting to know her new community at Mt. Bethel UMC in Bahama, N.C. Karl Grant D’06 is the current pastor at Cedar Grove UMC, where Anathoth Garden is flourishing.

Editor’s Note

This article was adapted with permission from “Race and Reconciliation in Cedar Grove,” by Jessica Jones, which aired July 7, 2010, on North Carolina Public Radio, WUNC.