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First Refuge plants community garden in Sanger

CoServ Charitable Foundation grant buys a tractor to work the land

By NICHOLAS SAKELARIS | CoServ

Paul Juarez, Executive Director of First Refuge Ministries, stands in the middle of a grass field on Milam Road in south Sanger, dreaming of the day when this 14-acre plot of land is bustling with fruits and vegetables to help feed the hungry in Denton County.

He points south of the barn near the road where they tilled the soil for the first crops – tomatoes, potatoes, squash, carrots, and other staples this spring.

But that’s just the beginning for the Community Strong Farm. 

To the east toward the New Life Church, he envisions an orchard with plums and peaches. Beyond that, there will be a pond for irrigation. Next to the barn, he plans to repurpose some pallets for raised gardens.

To the north, he has long-term plans for greenhouses where they can grow food year-round to meet the growing demand for food. Someday, he’d like to have chickens that could lay eggs.

If the garden produces a surplus, Paul said First Refuge could open a farmers market to sell the food and the proceeds would go back into the garden.

But transforming a field into a working community garden takes years of planning and lots of resources. The fight against food insecurity has never been more important as First Refuge feeds an estimated 500 families a week at nine different locations.

“We’ve been feeding more people in Denton County than anybody since the pandemic hit,” Paul said.

The CoServ Charitable Foundation has supported First Refuge with multiple grants over the years and wanted to find a way to help Paul’s dream become reality.

That assistance came in the form of a bright orange L2501 Kubota tractor with an attached pasture mower that First Refuge bought thanks to a grant from CCF.

“We couldn’t do it without a tractor,” Paul said. “Anything that you’re going to do, you need a tractor to mow and till the ground.”

For CCF, the tractor is a small gesture that will have a long-lasting impact on the North Texas community. 

“Food insecurity has only increased in North Texas since the pandemic began and First Refuge has been on the front lines fighting it for two years,” said Jennifer Ebert, CCF & Outreach Coordinator. “Establishing this Community Strong Garden is a creative and vital way to combat food insecurity with healthy, locally grown fruits and vegetables that will help our neighbors in need.”

Dr. Jim Mann, Lead Pastor at New Life Church in Sanger, said First Refuge has always been available to help those who come to his church seeking help with food, medical, dental, or other needs.

The church owns the land but has never fully utilized it. When Jim learned what Paul had planned, he leased it to First Refuge for $1 a year for 10 years.

“We’re super excited about it and we’re really glad to be a part of it,” Jim said. “It’s a great idea because some of these small, rural towns are a food desert so people have to go into Denton to shop.”

Since its creation in 2004, the CoServ Charitable Foundation has distributed more than $15 million in grants to worthy causes in North Texas. These grants are not possible without the generous contributions of CoServ Members, Customers, and Employees. To view a complete list of grant recipients and learn how to donate to or apply for a CCF grant, please visit CoServ.com/CCF.

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