Trinity Lutheran community garden provides those in need with access to healthy food

Trinity Lutheran Pastoral Care Minister Joan Jolly and Technology of the Poor President Dr. Job Ebenezer examine the crops in the community garden, which are grown in kiddie pools.

Six blue kiddie pools are lined up in two rows in a container garden just north of Trinity Lutheran Church and Schools in Lynnwood. Instead of water, each pool is filled with fresh soil and vegetable sprouts that are arranged around the edge and in the middle. Three wooden three-tier stands are located near the pools, each holding 18 to 22 containers to grow crops. 

Trinity Lutheran Pastoral Care Minister Joan Jolly and Technology of the Poor President Dr. Job Ebenezer the community garden in March. With the help of about 20 volunteers, they harvested lettuce and spinach in April. In May, they are growing mostly tomatoes, root vegetables, various herbs, perilla, eggplants, bush beans and cucumbers.

Lettuce and tomatoes are grown in the container garden.

“[The garden] does two things: feed the hungry and environmental stewardship,” Ebenezer said. “We don’t just recycle. We also upcycle some of the things that are thrown out. The canned goods are not really healthy for many people, especially those with diabetes and high blood pressure. [We want] the poor to have access to healthy food.”

“We have available space and we wanted to create space to grow food, which we offer to our community, and create relationships and connect with other churches, neighbors and organizations,” Jolly said. “The church has a small food bank, which is supported by Edmonds Food Bank. We provide each guest with a grocery bag of food, which gets them through the weekend. Now we are able to add these fresh vegetables, which will soon include tomatoes, strawberries and warmer-season vegetables that are starting to grow. They [the guests] are really eager to have them.” 

A three-tier stand to hold containers for crops.

The community garden can produce 10 to 15 one-gallon bags of produce each week, depending on the harvest size. The crops are harvested on Fridays and are given out on Saturdays. The amount produced can serve 70 to 80 meals.

A two-year member of Trinity Lutheran, Ebenezer got the idea of starting a community garden earlier this year when he heard that Jolly – a board member of Neighbors in Need – had been working for many years to help those who are homeless or low-income. He said that it was a way to have church members interact with each other beyond Sunday services.

Discarded milk jugs are used to grow flowers. Water from the top containers can drip down to the ones below.

Ebenezer also had done a similar project in Chicago in 1993 at Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, where he had 75 containers – including plastic wading pools, used tires and feed sacks -– that grew crops on the parking-garage rooftop of the ELCA offices. In the first year, gardeners harvested nearly 1,000 pounds of vegetables. 

Ebenezer’s website Container Gardens reported in 1997 that gardeners had harvested 984 pounds of vegetables from 38 pools in an area measuring 1,625 square feet. Each pool yielded an average of 22.5 pounds of tomatoes, cucumbers, bell peppers, zucchini and other vegetables, which is equivalent to about 26,800 pounds per acre — and ”far exceeds that of commercial yields in the state of Wisconsin and even the national 1996 average yields.”

Herbs like rosemary are grown in the community garden.
Vegetable ELCA RoofTop Equivalent U.S. National Farms* Wisconsin Farms*
Cucumber 58,867 lbs/acre 17,527 lbs/acre 12,680 lbs/acre
Snap Bean 9,408 lbs/acre 4,725 lbs/acre 6,930 lbs/acre
Tomatoes 37,206 lbs/acre 25,980 lbs/acre Data N/A
Bell Peppers 23,600 lbs/acre 24,092 lbs/acre Data N/A

Ebenezer came to the U.S. from Madras, India, in 1967 to study at Stevens Institute of Technology in New Jersey, where he earned a Ph.D. in rocket propulsion. Since then, he has taught at universities and traveled to India, Nepal, Tanzania and parts of Central America to promote container gardening. In 2006, Ebenezer retired from teaching and established the non-profit Technology for the Poor.

“When I started [container gardening], I had no experience in agriculture,” Ebenezer said, other than a few dozen times he had helped his mother with gardening in India. “Thanks to the potting soil, I was able to use those without knowing much about [gardening].”

After he left Chicago to teach in Pennsylvania in 2000, Ebenezer said the ECLA garden continued for another two years before it was discontinued. He thought that a similar container rooftop garden could be implemented at the upcoming Lynnwood Community Center.

Elevated containers for the physically challenged/disabled.

While Ebenezer and Jolly were examining the tomato plants, a few children from the nearby preschool gathered near the fence to look at the garden. Ebenezer said that it’s a “blessing” that these children took a lot of interest in what they were doing.

“This generation must be inspired [to continue the work],” he said. “They don’t even know where strawberries come from. I showed them the white flower and told them that they all will become strawberries. And lettuce, they don’t know that we grow them in the soil. We hope they will take ownership.”

“Our team will be happy to do demonstrations of setting up a container and vertical garden to organizations that are interested,” he added. “We will go to their place.”

To learn more, contact Dr. Job Ebenezer at

— Story and photos by Nick Ng

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