CoHO gardens cultivate community, encourage hope

by Jan Spann

Gardens can be a place of comfort and connection, a way to lose your troubles in the digging and find the reward of growing your own food. Gardens are an integral part of the mission of City of Hope Outreach (CoHO), according to founder and executive director Phillip Fletcher.

Three years ago, the first garden in Conway’s Oakwood Village Mobile Home Park started when resident Brian King suggested a vegetable garden plot. There are now two additional gardens in other low-income neighborhoods, and King would be proud. He died earlier this year, and the gardens reflect how one man’s idea can change the world, or at least a small part of it.

Volunteers from St. Joseph Catholic Church helped residents with the garden and also contributed about $1,000 to get the project up and running. Conway Parks and Recreation employees built the eight raised beds. In 2015, Nabholz Construction helped with a second location at the Brookside Mobile Home Park off Oak Street. The third garden of raised beds is on South Ash Street.

The gardens serve many purposes. For the children, it’s an excellent food source and an education in the cycle of life and the joy of seeing your own food grow. The gardens also offer a revenue source, with some kids pickling cucumbers and others selling the finished products. The kids are their own best customers. Fresh-cut flowers such as summer zinnias are delivered to local coffee houses like Zetéo and Blue Sail.

“Showing kids how to grow their own food gives them ownership, and then they want to find more positive ways to take part in life,” said Fletcher.

Fletcher’s passion is CoHO’s mission: to provoke hope in individuals, families and communities for the glory of God. With a bachelor of arts degree in ethnic studies, and a master’s in theology, Fletcher preaches the Gospel in both words and actions.

“Our homeless citizens and the poor deserve access to better food, and that’s the purpose of CoHO’s gardens,” said Fletcher. “We affirm people’s dignity with a way to improve their own situations. The Bible instructs the farmers to glean his fields but leave the edges for others. The poor in Biblical days would have to work for their food, and societal mores instructed how to do that. Our communities need to reflect those same societal standards.

“In our human experience, hope replaces despair for those in a struggle. Jesus came to show us how to be better, and when we help those in need, we are following His example.”

Fletcher challenges us to step out of our isolation and segregation and see the larger community outside our box. We are part of a greater fabric, and we must step out of our comfort zone to help someone with a hug or a hand. Poverty creates a circumstance where folks can’t make a choice to get out of the problem without help.

“You will see your life improved when you help someone else,” Fletcher said. “When we move from our individual situation to the community need, we not only effect change in someone else’s life, but we will see positive results in our life as well.”

While CoHO’s gardens start with hunger, the greater good is to consider the whole person and his or her interaction within community.

In a garden, one person may water, while another volunteer weeds, and yet another will harvest. All share in the bounty. In Fletcher’s view, the community’s command is to love our neighbors, and God will take care of the rest.

Each of the CoHO neighborhoods faces some of the troubles in our world: single parent homes, elders who live alone, drugs and crime.

But as neighbors, these folks celebrate the goodness of birthdays, baby showers and marriages while also mourning the passing of friends and family.

In 2008, City of Hope Outreach provided Thanksgiving food baskets to residents. Two years later, the holiday became more about relationships as neighbors, staff and volunteers brought food and offered talent and music in fellowship. “Great things happen around food. When you sit and break bread with someone, you learn more about each other, and you build trust,” Fletcher said.

CoHO celebrates the Thanksgiving potluck this year on Saturday, Nov. 19, at the Brookside Community Center, and on Sunday, Nov. 20, at Independent Living Services on 615 E. Robins for the Oakwood and South Ash residents.

Volunteer opportunities abound. As more community gardens are planned, young and old alike can plant, weed, water and harvest. You might even have a suggestion for a garden location!

CoHO is currently working with First Presbyterian Church of Conway on a garden grant. Fletcher hopes this will be a model for other churches to provide gardens for food pantries, nutrition classes and community interaction.

CoHO opens its Christmas Store in December with new toys, clothes and other goods available to residents for $5 per item. Those funds help provide more merchandise, and donations of new items are gratefully accepted. CoHO accepts donations from Monday, Nov. 21, through Friday, Dec. 9. Donations can be mailed to The City of Hope Outreach, P.O. Box 11474, Conway AR 72034 or made at

You might have a skill that could be put to good use. Teaching others and maintenance help is always welcomed. Email [email protected] for more information.

We each have resources that God calls us to use. As Bishop Desmond Tutu noted, “Do your little bit of good where you are; it’s those little bits of good put together that overwhelm the world.”


A Conway resident, Jan Spann has been gardening for 20-plus years and has been involved with the Faulkner County Master Gardeners for 11 years. She and her husband, Randy, have five children and eight grandchildren.