garden_1_cc_web.jpgLIBERTY CITY — Miyah Scott is planting kale, collard greens and other fruits and vegetables at the community garden across the street from the Church of the Open Door.

In a few months, she’ll nurture the seedlings into fully-grown plants and harvest her crops. Scott is part of the church’s Seed to Harvest Program and, like her plants, she’s growing.

“It’s definitely helped me to practice what I’m learning,” says Scott, who studies culinary arts at Miami Dade College.  “You have to have a good relationship with the people who grow your food.”

The program, which attracts as many as 20 participants, is based on the Biblical notion that humans are “seeds of God,” according to Pastor R. Joaquin Willis, the church’s spiritual leader and director of Seed to Harvest.

Since joining the program last year, Scott has seen students go through a transformation and has witnessed her transformation as well.

“The kids can get an understanding of where they should be spiritually and also get an understanding of where they can take themselves through life,” said Scott, 22. “They get to better learn about themselves and what they like to do, and what type of person they are.”

Willis started Seed to Harvest in 1987 basing it on his Howard University  doctoral dissertation on designing a leadership institute he called the Youth Development Program, with a mission to teach young people how to lead individuals, teams, organizations and partnerships.

The participants are children of members of the church as well as children from a Bible study group, though any child can join the program. The community garden is the mission for Seed to Harvest in Liberty City. Students use the plot of land across from the Church of the Open Door on Southwest Eighth Avenue as a live classroom in which they grow fruits and vegetables as well as grow human beings and leaders.

“The thesis of my dissertation was based upon the fact that our churches have routinely produced leaders,” says Willis. “The black church has always been the training ground for our leaders …. We need to be intentional about producing tomorrow’s leaders.”

Change comes slowly at first, becoming evident as the young members reveal themselves.

“So you see a child that goes from being antisocial to figuring out that ‘I can do this,’” says Scott.  “It’s more of a spiritual and personality build-up, it’s getting them to grow from within.”

Marvin Silver, 39, was among the first participants in what became Seed to Harvest, when he became part of the Youth Development Program at Jubilee Church of Christ in Lanham, Md.

Today he’s a lawyer, outreach director for the non-profit Americans for Financial Reform and a spiritual leader at the same church.

In 1996, while a member of the program, Silver created the Law and Public Policy Society at Bowie State University, a historically black university between Washington, D.C., and Baltimore. 

The society helped students by offering LSAT preparation, application assistance, empowerment classes and workshops in networking, finance and healthy eating, all the while providing Silver with an opportunity to test his leadership skills.

“Looking back, as a whole, the program really prepared me for my calling in life,” Silver said in a phone interview. “I noticed an improvement, a sort of greater knowledge and an awareness.”

While other attempts at building community gardens have been shaky to start, Willis says the main issues have been the time it has taken to gain proper permits and, more importantly, getting youths to volunteer for the program.

“The young people don’t want to get their hands dirty, so to speak,” Willis said, emphasizing the patience it takes to be in the program. “This is something you have to commit to and it takes a lot of time.”

Contact Alex Blencowe at