MANSFIELD -- Rachel Justice was putting some finishing touches on a mural near a community garden in Mansfield Wednesday night when a man walking by took a moment to recognize her efforts.
“He looked at me and said, ‘You give people hope,’” Justice said when recalling the incident on social media.
Justice and her lifelong friend, Nicole McFadden, are two of more than a dozen local people who hope to beautify Mansfield through the “Welcome Garden” and garden-themed mural at the intersection of Marion Avenue and Benton Street South.
The community garden was first planted a few years ago by the New Beginning Full Gospel Baptist Church. It has since grown significantly. Last year, Justice began painting two murals on nearby buildings. Earlier this year, a fence was installed around the garden.
This year, more than 10 nearby residents or members of the church have designated plots, which cost $20 apiece. According to McFadden, this is meant to encourage people to care for their space and to help purchase supplies for the garden’s maintenance.
“It helps us be a little more self-sustainable,” she said.
A Perrysville resident who commutes to Ontario for work, McFadden wanted to find a place to use her gardening talents somewhere in between. Mansfield was the ideal spot.
She joined the community garden’s planning team three years ago.
“The church had already started theirs but they needed help, so I decided to plug in there,” McFadden said.
She recognized C. Antoinette Daley, Belinda Moore and a handful of others for their efforts in getting the garden started.
“They deserve so much credit,” she said.
This year’s community garden features quite a variety. McFadden rattled off a long list of vegetables including the commonly grown tomatoes, peppers and potatoes, but also the less popular, okra, chives and basil.
Along the newly installed black, metal fence, tall sunflowers and a mix of other flowers adorn the garden. Their bright pops of color are meant to simply add to the garden’s aesthetics.
“I think it goes with my faith. We’re supposed to be bringing heaven here on earth, just making it a better place,” McFadden said. “That’s kind of a mission of mine, so I enjoy being able to beautify and just make it a better place here.”
To Justice, adding a nearby mural was a natural fit with her friend, McFadden’s efforts to beautify the block.
“It’s just using different tools towards the same vision and mission, to bring beauty, love and hope to the area,” said Justice, who resides near Hayesville.
She began painting two murals last summer and hopes to complete them by the end of this summer.
“Sometimes the winter months, at least for me, seem to go long … and so I hope when people see this, something with color, it sparks this newness of joy,” Justice said. “The mural can continue to testify that the garden will come back.”
Though not a member of the New Beginning Full Gospel Baptist Church, Justice has visited the church on several occasions. She enjoys mingling with her fellow Christians.
“It’s just been fun to come alongside their mission and get to know them,” she said.
Daley, who remembers the gardens early beginnings, was and still is excited to have McFadden and Justice involved in the Welcome Garden. In fact, the intent from the start was to be a place for everyone.
“That’s why we named it the Welcome Garden. We wanted everyone to feel welcome,” Daley said.