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Caring for creation: How one Utah couple is serving their church and community through gardening and beekeeping

Volunteer Kristen Bell works with bees at Ogden First United Methodist Church in Marriott-Slaterville, Weber County, on Tuesday, May 12, 2020. The church has an 11-acre property with a community garden and beehives, which provides fresh vegetables and honey to church members and Ogden’s Lantern House homeless shelter.
Volunteer Kristen Bell works with bees at Ogden First United Methodist Church in Marriott-Slaterville, Weber County, on Tuesday, May 12, 2020. The church has an 11-acre property with a community garden and beehives, which provides fresh vegetables and honey to church members and Ogden’s Lantern House homeless shelter.
Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

MARRIOTT-SLATERVILLE, Weber County — It was about a decade ago that Steve and Kristen Bell joined the Ogden First United Methodist Church and had a pivotal conversation with their pastor.

The couple was interested in doing something to benefit their congregation and community. Steve Bell recalls the pastor asking a question that nobody had ever asked him before.

“What gifts has God given you?” the faith leader said.

“Well,” Steve Bell said, “I can grow almost anything.”

The seed was planted.

More than 10 years later, the Bells work together to oversee the church’s community garden and beekeeping ministries on its 11-acre property in a rural part of Marriott-Slaterville. He primarily works the garden, and she keeps the bees.

“We feel that God calls us to care for creation and this is one way we can do that,” Kristen Bell said. “It’s important to us to give to our community. God gives you talents and you want to use them to help others.”

After several years of hard work, the Bells, with the help of other church volunteers, have been instrumental in establishing a large garden that produces a variety of fresh vegetables for church members and those in need at Lantern House, St. Anne’s homeless shelter in Ogden.

“We pick twice a week,” Steve Bell said. “Tuesdays for the homeless shelter, Saturday or Sunday for the church.”

Near the garden are five beehives, which ensure pollination for the plants. Last week Kristen Bell dressed in full beekeeper gear to check on the hives and administer “bee juice,” a type of sugar water food. In her hand she carried an instrument that gives off smoke, which has a calming effect on the bees. Her father was a beekeeper and taught her the craft. The beekeeping ministry has drawn more volunteers than gardening over the years.

“It’s proven to be popular,” said Kristen Bell, the self-proclaimed “Queen Bee.”

Some honey and beeswax is used to make products like lip balm, honey-sweetened jams and other items, which are then sold to help finance the ministries. Part of the funds are also sent to support a United Methodist missionary in Ghana, who teaches people agriculture, farming, animal husbandry, beekeeping and other skills, according to the Rev. Kim James.

“I feel so proud that we can do that here and send support to this missionary in Africa,” the Rev. James said. “It’s a great way to live in God’s world.”

The Rev. James praised the Bells for their unselfish devotion.

“They are very dedicated to our earthly ministries,” the Rev. James said.

They’ve come a long way since they started.

For about eight years, the community garden was irrigated with water from a ditch using siphon tubes, which involved opening floodgates. But their water turn came once a week and often in the dark of night. It was a challenge to keep the plants and vegetables properly watered and growing.

That was a new experience for the Bells, who are originally from Vermont, where flood irrigation was a foreign concept. If nothing else, they became well acquainted with the neighboring farmers, Kristen Bell said.

Two years ago the Bells developed a new plan to install piping for a pressurized secondary water irrigation system for greater water efficiency and garden productivity. They call the project “S.W.I.F.T.S.,” which stands for “Sustainable Water Initiative — Food To Share.”

In November 2018, the couple attended a United Methodist Committee on Relief Earthkeepers training held in Salt Lake City that helped them develop a plan and resources for the project.

They met with the Marriott-Slaterville Planning Commission and worked out a way to gain access the city’s secondary water lines. Along the way, the church applied for and received several thousand dollars in grant money to fund the project.

“Everything came together and we reached our goal,” Kristen Bell said.

Steve Bell, a civil engineer who recently retired from Procter & Gamble, designed the new system. He did his homework, which included a consultation with a state irrigation specialist from Utah State University. Last week Steve Bell pulled into the church parking lot with 4,000 feet of drip tube on a trailer, along with other irrigation equipment. For the next few weeks the retired engineer will have a new full-time job, he said.

Volunteer Steve Bell plows the garden at Ogden First United Methodist Church in Marriott-Slaterville, Weber County, on Tuesday, May 12, 2020. The church has an 11-acre property with a community garden and beehives, which provides fresh vegetables and honey to church members and Ogden’s Lantern House homeless shelter.
Volunteer Steve Bell plows the garden at Ogden First United Methodist Church in Marriott-Slaterville, Weber County, on Tuesday, May 12, 2020. The church has an 11-acre property with a community garden and beehives, which provides fresh vegetables and honey to church members and Ogden’s Lantern House homeless shelter.
Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

“This is the modern trend in gardening,” the lifelong gardener said. “We love this. We wouldn’t be doing this if we didn’t love it.”

The list of vegetables in this year’s garden will include winter and summer squash, pumpkins, cucumbers, beans, beets, peas, onions, and one of the more popular items, kale.

“We’ve grown corn from time to time, but we have raccoons down here and trying to stay ahead of raccoons is hard work,” said Steve Bell, proudly sporting a dark blue First United Methodist Church T-shirt.

Steve, 59, and Kristen, 64, have been married for 37 years. They are happy to be working outdoors and side by side, a blessing in their marriage.

“When we came to Utah we decided it would be good for Steve and I to do a ministry together,” Kristen said. “Not only has that brought us together to work in the same space, but we love growing things. ... It’s a good partnership and it keeps us close together.”

There’s an open invitation to church and community members alike to volunteer with the garden and beekeeping ministries. It could be an educational experience and a chance to make a new friend, Kristen Bell said.

“Everything we do here is very community minded,” she said. “If people have an interest in joining, helping and learning more, we welcome them to contact us and come out. We love to make new friends.”

This year marks the 150th anniversary of Ogden First United Methodist Church. In June 1870, the first Methodist preacher arrived on a train and preached at the train depot, the Rev. James said.

The congregation moved to its current location in 2008.