Mark Renn, the multi-dimensional associate pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Kingwood, has recently been in the news for his store Blessed [are the] Beekeepers, which he created in 2010 as a way to reuse all of the byproducts of owning bees. What began as a fun hobby to create products such as beeswax lip balm and beeswax soap has now become a full-fledged small business. But as well as garnishing tables with honey, Renn learned many important lessons from the bees regarding how a community can better function with virtues such as hard work and selfless sacrifice. When Renn took over the role of gardening coordinator for Deerwood Elementary last fall, he insisted they have a garden that was not only more productive, but also engaging. Ive got kids building compost piles. They are collecting food waste from the cafeteria to bring to the compost barrel, so they understand how to manage their waste and turn it into something that is going to benefit their world, said Renn. He believes that teaching young people how to garden is more than growing vegetables; it helps them become better stewards of what they have, and empowers them to appreciate the world around them. Now, gardening has become a natural extension to the lessons Renn shares with his congregation and the community; teaching them not only how make seeds grow, but to create the right environment in which a seed can take root and flourish. He feels these principles are interchangeable, applying to the church, family and marriage. When you live in a throw-away culture as we do, where people buy things, use them for a very short amount of time, then throw them away or forget about them, we end up with an attitude that transfers into our relationships it has implications on how quick we are to give up on a relationship, or to quit a job at the first sign of adversity, or to lose faith in God the first time that something doesnt go our way, said Renn. The Forge for Families, another organization where Renn is volunteering, is a Christian after-school ministry with a community center in the Third Ward. There they offer after-school tutoring, basketball leagues and mentoring and now gardening. Gardening is especially important for the families in the Third Ward, according to Renn, because they live in what is termed a food island, where the only produce one can buy in their neighborhood is what they find at the gas stations and smaller stores. Yet, above and beyond the nutritional applications, Renn says working with the land also teaches patience. We live in a culture where everything is instant gratification and one of the things I do with the kids is to teach them in a practical way that most things worth doing take time, said Renn. You plant the seed, you water it, and you dont see anything for weeks. But there is hope, there is anticipation. You look at the ground every day, hoping something happened over night. It requires you to slow down, to do something with your hands. It requires you to appreciate that the best things in life are not easy, but they are better because you have an investment in them. Renn hopes to inspire not only the children, but also the women at the Oaks of Righteousness, a halfway house purchased in November of 2013 and supported by a number of different churches. Renns experience in gardening led the church to provide a garden. They planted trees, herbs and a variety of vegetable seeds and also installed a rainwater collection system and compost piles. Renn is compiling his notes on husbandry and the insightful lessons he has learned on the subject for a book. The working title of the manuscript is To Till and Keep [and share], and he will be seeking a publisher in the upcoming months. For more information on Renn, visit the church's website at, or his store at (Photo:) Mark and his son, Matthew, learning lessons from the land.

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