Tips for Creating a Faith Based Community Garden – part 1

I mentioned a few days ago when I posted the list of resources for developing a faith based community garden, that I would post the article I had written for in parts.  This is the first part of the article – part 2 will be posted tomorrow:

Community garden Lynden Washington

Vegetable gardening has been one major response to the economic recession. Tough economic times have sent people everywhere scurrying for garden books and packets of seed.  In 2009 an estimated 9 million Americans started gardens to supplement their diets. Even the White House planted an organic garden to supplement the presidential salads.  Community gardens are springing up in church parking lots, housing projects, and school playgrounds.  And in some urban areas on vacant blocks of land that have stood empty for years.

There are many reasons to start a church based community garden.  The most common motivation for faith-based community gardens is the opportunity to help those in need, especially during these turbulent times.  Others are concerned for their young and want to provide locally grown organic food and enable them to develop healthy eating habits.  Still others are motivated by the desire to heal our earth or want to provide a beautiful green space for their congregations and neighbors to enjoy God’s good creation.

A community garden is not just a place to grow food.  It is a way to express our faith and interact with God and God’s good creation.   Perhaps one reason God created human beings to tend the garden is because God knew that it is in the midst of a garden that we connect most intimately to the character and ways of our Creator.  Edythe Neumann who is helping Highland Community Church in Abbotsford British Columbia establish a garden commented:

The act of gardening can teach us something about ourselves, about our interdependence with the world of nature, about the relationships between work and creativity, and about how we might begin to discern those spiritual facts that elude us in other aspects of life.  Gardening can also be an expression of community and conversation – another way to say that God is with us on the earth, a way to picture God’s presence with us – through the gifts of nature and gardening together.

Church based community gardens require a lot of planning.  Bring together a small group of passionate individuals who really want to see this happen.  Before getting into discussions about garden logistics, talk about why you feel this is important as a church activity.  What are the benefits you hope the congregation and the neighborhood will gain?  How will it help people connect more intimately to each other and to God? What are the values and characteristics of God’s kingdom that this garden could portray?

Jeff showing off tomatoes at Five Loaves Farm Lynden

Jeff Littleton, who helped establish Five Loaves farm which is developing a network of community gardens on church properties in Lynden Washington told me:

The garden teaches at least two key messages beyond that of vegetables or lady bugs.  One is for our church: to share, to cooperate with, to relax, to enjoy each and everybody whatever faith or worldview.  The other is for our community: their capturing that these “church people” can be trusted, they do live out what they say, they love us… and ‘I want to know why.’  Somehow, some way this joint experience will transform lives and transform communities under God’s care.”

For me personally, the garden is a constant unfolding of new revelations about God.  Fostering community  and generosity are probably the most important kingdom values I have learned from involvement in community gardens.

Working together as a church community provides a wonderful sense of accomplishment and offers tremendous opportunity to strengthen intergenerational ties as young and old work side by side, weeding, watering and planting.  You may even like to designate a special area as a children’s garden where children are allowed to choose what grows and when it is harvested.  At our small intentional community, the Mustard Seed House we grow about 50% of our own vegetables.  Seven year old Catie not only gets a chance to introduce new vegetable varieties each year, she is also my best year round helper.  A few weeks ago she practiced her newly developed writing skills making markers for our tomato seedlings.

Catie decorates markers for tomato seedlings


3 Responses

  1. At the same moment your face book notification e-mail popped into my inbox so did an e-mail from First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ). I found it intriguing that the subjects were so connected so I will share the basic point that they were making. This is not so much an idea about community gardens but a perspective of why our gardens should be accessible to those in need. James tells us “Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress.” (James 1:27) in which he is alluding to Leviticus where we are commanded “Now when you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap to the very corners of your field, nor shall you gather the gleanings of your harvest.” (Leviticus 19:9)

    So our friends at FFOZ put these together and said “If you want a business venture to be successful, you need to squeeze every ounce of potential profit out of your production. That’s just good business sense, right? But the Bible disagrees. The Torah gives specific commandments for farmers practicing agriculture in the land of Israel. God tells the farmer not to harvest the grain from the corners of his field. He tells the harvesters not to go over the crop a second time to capture produce they might have missed on the first pass. He tells husbandmen not to gather the fruit that falls from their vineyards and orchards on its own accord. Instead, they are to leave all of the secondary produce for the poor, the needy and the stranger to collect. The businessman who conducts his operation in keeping with these biblical principles is not concerned only about his own personal success; he is concerned about the success of others as well.

    The sages point out that the Torah does not mandate how large the corners of the field have to be. A generous man might leave large corners standing for the gleaners while a stingy man might decide that a single stalk or two at the corner of each field is sufficient. In both cases, the man’s field made a statement about his heart.”

    I believe that at the heart of every single commandment is an opportunity to offer dignity and honor to others. This being the case I also believe that we need to plant our personal, professional and community based gardens in such a way that we can indeed visit those in distress – that give dignity to those in need. A garden may be open – fruit trees planted in a park – but without invitation one is reduced to the sense that one is stealing. If we find culturally appropriate ways leave the corners unharvested, to gather and distribute the fallen fruit and to let other glean free of charge or harassment, then we can offer dignity. The why and how are more important than the when and where.

  2. Doug,
    What beautiful thoughts. thanks for sharing. Part of what gardening teaches us is generosity – a wonderful reflection of the generosity of God

  3. […] Tips for Creating a Faith Based Community Garden – part 1 […]

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