It started with an abundance of tomatoes. What to do with a prolific garden and not enough appetite to eat all the juicy reds multiplying each week? Sarah Belk wondered if all the produce in her farm garden could somehow generate good.
“What if we had a farmstand and all the proceeds benefitted the homeless?” Sarah thought.
In 2009, Sarah, Paige Waugh, Paige James, Kristina Burke and Anne Perper led a group of over twenty friends who called themselves the “Mustard Seeds.” The farm stand idea became known as “Common Grounds” and it became a fixture in Myers Park not only for tomatoes but for an abundance of good. Dozens of volunteers baked and cooked twice weekly for this neighborhood market that overflowed with freshly baked sourdough bread, pound cakes, cookies, granola, casseroles and seasonal produce. Neighbors eagerly arrived for this word-of mouth wonder and usually by 11am, favorite items like Patrick Lewis’ chocolate bread and Dee Marley’s chocolate sauce were sold out. Everyone who worked the farm stand or cooked, volunteered their time and all proceeds benefitted the Urban Ministry Center. Although it was a summer market running Memorial Day to Labor day, there was also a Thanksgiving extravaganza market called Cornucopia with gift baskets, specialty goods, live music and long lines of happy customers.
Between 2009 and 2015, Common Grounds raised over $200,000 to benefit the homeless even contributing over $30,000 to support the building of Moore Place, Charlotte’s first permanent supportive housing. The proceeds were one extraordinary gift of the farmstand, but the other invaluable benefit was the community it created. It was a neighborhood gathering for good each summer, as much about the food as it was the friendship. Beloved by customers, it ultimately became an overwhelming volunteer enterprise to continue so after six years, the Mustard Seeds retired and Common Ground closed for good.
With the COVID crisis, and people home stress baking, it seemed a good time to reinvigorate the Mustard Seeds. An email went to the band of farmstand friends, asking to support Moore Place residents directly. Over 120 formerly homeless men and women are sheltering in place together in very small quarters. Almost all residents live on a small disability income which means a likely diet of rice and beans with few splurges especially for an Easter holiday meal.
Could the former Common Grounds volunteers band together again to make Easter surprises for the residents of Moore Place?
With only three day’s notice, the Mustard Seeds and friends responded in typical abundance: pound cakes, cookies, pies, apples, oranges, Easter eggs and candy and even four dozen hand-sewn face masks. Jake Martin, Sarah’s soon-to-be son-in-law, filled the back of his car on Good Friday and made a special delivery.
Over the next two months, Sarah will be gathering and Jake will be delivering twice weekly to bring a little love to Moore Place from all the Mustard Seeds and friends. While they longer gather to sell on the Thies front porch for Common Ground, the Mustard Seeds have not lost their shared mission of uncommon generosity and this Easter, their faith once again delivered.
Want to help? Donations to help Moore Place residents sheltering in place through April and May can be left Mondays and Thursdays on front side porch of 444 Eastover Road. Suggestions: baked goods (please wrap individually if possible), fresh fruits and vegetables, Walmart gift cards, puzzles, crossword books, adult coloring books, cards of encouragement for residents.