Standing in front of rows of dirt, the Rev. Jack Dawson envisions a robust garden with tomato, squash and jalapeno plants.
On Saturday, members of his congregation, the United Congregational Christian Church, and other community members met at 7 a.m. to start spreading the seed and carefully placing plants in the ground in what they hope will be a large community garden.
It started about a year ago when Lawson was talking to members of his congregation about what they could do to help the community.
"The impetus is the downturn in the economy and also realizing the sense that Lodi has a community that isn't doing well and hasn't been doing well," Dawson said.
The garden will be named the Garden of EDEN, which stands for "Everyone Deserves Enough Nourishment."
His congregation thought a community garden would not only provide food, but also raise awareness about those less fortunate in Lodi and help unite the community.
And it couldn't have come at a better time, Patricia Fehling said. Because of the economy, churches throughout the United States are joining together to plant these gardens.
"We decided to take a step in faith that we are going to do it and not worry about all the potential problems and put it in God's hands," she said.
Fehling is a member of St. John's Episcopal Church and has reached out to the Salvation Army, the Unity Project and many churches in the community to participate.
"It is the fellowship of picking and planting. There is nothing more happy than being in the sunshine working together," she said.
Because Lodi is a multi-cultural community, Dawson said one of the main goals is to make sure the garden serves a variety of communities.
Dawson has invited an Asian congregation and the staff of the Head Start program that meets at the church, which has a large Hispanic population, to come plant and care for the garden. The groups will plant vegetables and fruits that appeal to Asians and Hispanics, he said.
The Head Start program already tends a small garden where the students help grow most of the ingredients for chili, including tomatoes, onions, chili peppers, herbs and jalapenos, said Eva Rosales, who teaches at the school in the morning.
She said it gives the children an opportunity to learn about growing food and earth science.
"They love to get dirty. … They like weeding, watering and love watching it grow, and it gives them responsibility for something they created," Rosales said.
At the end of the year, they make a "Friendship Salad" with the vegetables. She hopes having a larger garden will allow them to grow more vegetables, like Mexican squash.
Once the groups can start harvesting, Dawson said they will offer the vegetables for free. He has discussed doing "pick your own vegetable" events or running a fruit stand where people can come pick up the produce.
But he can't promise when the first crop will be ready.
"We will have the first crop when the first crop is ready," he said with a laugh.
The church received a $1,000 grant through the Disciples of Christ to plant the garden. When Fehling picked up the plants on Friday, she said Lowe's also helped by giving a discount on the plants.
The Saturday planting included a ceremony dedicating the garden to Art Raab, who died in December. Raab, a former Lodi High School teacher and local activist, worked alongside migrant workers each summer to understand their hardships and marched with Cesar Chavez for the rights of farm laborers.
He also helped start the Breakthrough Project, a group formed after a cross was burned at Tokay High School in 1998.
Dawson said the church worried about the weeds becoming overwhelming or vandalism, but once they saw all the community support, they had to go forward with it.
"It's a letting go process," he said. "We can't worry about what may or may not happen."
He believes doing the garden is just another way to carry out the church's mission.
"In Scripture, it says we have a responsibility to care for those in need, and this is one way we honor God's call," he said.