Edible Churchyards, Campuses and More

This morning I had the privilege of being a part of a Farms, Food and Faith networking meeting held at Seattle University in conjunction with Seattle Tilth and members of faith communities and congregations interested in growing, harvesting and distributing food.

This is the second such meeting we have held. The first meeting was at Seattle Tilth, already familiar to me because of the amazing array of resources they provide. That meeting connected me to a number of organizations like Lettuce Links, in the area some of which I mentioned in this post.

Today’s meeting was another rich experience of learning. I was awed by the scope of Seattle University’s edible landscape program. As early as 1994 they were recognized for their pollution preventing grounds practices. They now have a number of gardens well worth a visit. Their edible plants range from an entire Orchard to an occasional blueberry plant in the landscape that provides a snack for any person that walks by.  

Another initiative I learned about is the Edible Churchyard Program at Union Theological Seminary in New York City. I know it is a little far away for most Seattlites to visit but those in the New York area might like to look it up. It is training hundreds of seminarians to incorporate food justice and growing into their future work as community and faith leaders while also converting parts of the campus into models for urban growing.  

Another interesting program is Growing Groceries Mentorship Program which trains volunteers to help make existing community garden projects sustainable. 

We recognize that churches, synagogues, mosques and other places of worship often have underutilized resources. Churches often have land that sits idle except at Easter when the easter egg hunt is on. Other places of worship have kitchens that only get utilized for coffee hour after services. Congregations have volunteers some of whom may be passionate cupboard gardeners. All have spiritual resources and even financial resources that could be used to help us grow more of our own food and share it with neighbours, food banks, the homeless and other ministries.

This is an exciting opportunity that I hope will encourage the few of us who are already passionate about growing our own food to ignite the smoldering embers in others within our congregations.

I know that Seattle is not alone is developing such initiatives and I would love to hear from others who have been involved in similar ventures. 


Wading Pool Gardens

Job Ebenezer - container gardening

Job Ebenezer – container gardening

This evening I have been sitting in Newberg Oregon talking to Randy Woodley about possible ways that urban areas can become more self sustaining which reminded me of one of my favourite urban gardeners Job Ebenezer. It made me realize that I have never blogged about the work of this remarkable man.

Job believes that with inexpensive containers and suitable soil mix, you can create an urban garden virtually anywhere – on roof tops, vacant city lots, brown fields, and unused portion of parking lots. And he uses children’s wading pools to create them.

The president (Dr. Job Ebenezer) of the organization, Technology for the Poor, explains his vision for the spread of urban agriculture.

In 1993, Dr. Job Ebenezer, former Director of Environmental Stewardship and Hunger Education at the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) established a container garden on the roof of the parking garage of the ELCA offices in Chicago. The hope was that the roof top garden would serve as a role model for creative use of urban space throughout the country. Dr. Ebenezer proved the feasibility of growing vegetables in plastic wading pools, used tires and feed sacks.

Brokenness Transformed to Beauty

Yesterday I held a spirituality of gardening seminar at the Inhabit conference.  We had a chance to wander the Belltown P-Patch community garden and reflect on the amazing transformation that has taken place not just here but in many other once vacant lots not just here in Seattle but around the world.  As I have said before, I believe this is a move of God.  Something new that God is doing to transform our world.

Sherry Maddox from Lexington shared about the vacant lot next to them where broken bottles, syringes, needles and other garbage have been dumped.  They have spent long hours cleaning out the lot, bringing in good soil and compost, planting trees, preparing raised beds and making a chicken coop.  Soon a couple of beehives will be added.  People are excited not just because what was once an eyesore has become a beautiful site but because it will provide fresh vegetables and hopefully even an income for those who tend the garden.

This seminar was a great opportunity not just to interact with people who love gardening but also to reflect on what is happening on once deserted and often toxic vacant lots in cities around the world.  They are being transformed.  God is taking what was broken and despised and turning it into something beautiful.  At one point we stopped to contemplate the cactus that was growing up through a seemingly solid rock, a wonderful metaphor for what God is doing.  No rock is too hard for God to penetrate.  Nothing is too damaged for God to transform.

Austerity Measures – What Would Jesus Do?

Tom and I are now in Britain where the entire population is staggering under the drastic budget cuts that have just been announced.   These are the most severe cuts since the 1920s.  Some programmes have been cut by 10% others by 30% and still others have been annihilated completely.  A few people are breathing a sigh of relief thinking they have escaped the devastation.  Some are trying to hoard their existing resources and maintain a semblance of security.  And though the situation in the U.S. has not reached this stage I suspect that it might not be far behind.  I believe that we are in the midst of a major societal upheaval and we will never be the same again.

This is not all necessarily bad news though.  Jesus constantly instilled his followers with hope and expectation in a time that must have seemed as uncertain as our own.  His proclamations about God’s kingdom gave them confidence in the future – not just for some vague after life future, but for their very real future on earth too.  And as a result they radically reoriented their lives and reinvented their priorities.   In the midst of societal upheaval Jesus established a new community of love and mutual care.

In the midst of this challenging transition there is so much that gives me hope and much that excites me because it seems that God is doing something new, something I can imagine Jesus doing so that we catch wonderful glimpses of God’s kingdom.

First I love the new understanding of Christian mission that is emerging –  not as programmes that help or convert people but as relationships founded on mutual love and concern.  And out of these relationships new intentional Christian communities are evolving with spiritual formation and spiritual disciplines at their centre.

Second I believe we are seeing a re-definition of generosity – not as a giving of our leftovers to help those at the margins but as a willing turning away from self centred living towards simplicity that frees up more resources to share.  The increasing popularity of One Day’s Wages, started by Eugene Cho is a great example of this.  And as I travel I run into a growing number of people who voluntarily accept challenges such as the $2 challenge.  Others are living on minimum wage for several weeks in order to free up resources.

Third we are seeing a reconnecting to creation that is not just a wonderful way to provide fresh produce for ourselves but it is often a way to reach out and help others too.  In my post Is This A Move of God I talked about the community garden movement that has not just provided food for individuals and families but that has stocked food pantries and fed the homeless in amazing ways.

We are all facing challenging economic times but I do believe that God is still in control.  And God still provides us with hope for the future no matter how challenging the transitions may seem


Is This A Move Of God?

Garden tour at Mustard Seed House

Saturday I facilitated a Spirituality of Gardening seminar at the Mustard Seed House.  A small but extremely enthusiastic group gathered to discuss basics of organic gardening and how we encounter God in the garden.  Towards the end of the day we talked about the current move towards faith based community gardens that are springing up literally all over the world as churches discover they can not only produce food for their congregations but also help feed those at the margins.

Sunday Tom and I drove up to Camano Island and then to Lynden Washington for some teaching venues.  In our travels we participated in some exciting meetings that focused around our desire to develop a community on Camano that can both model and teach sustainable faith and sustainable life practices.  Again the conversation turned to community gardens and the amazing movement that is gathering momentum and in many ways transforming our churches.

I do believe this is a move of God.  In many cases starting a community garden is revitalizing churches as people from the surrounding community are drawn in to participate.  In other situations it is strengthening community within the church and sparking off new ministries that are feeding the hungry and teaching basic life skills like cooking and canning to many who have never cooked from scratch before.

My friends at Five Loaves Farm in Lynden are receiving so many requests to help with new gardens it is hard to keep up.  Even our good friend Graham Kerr, once known as The Galloping Gourmet, has become involved planting his own garden and working with his church at Mt Vernon on a huge garden project.  Graham tells us that he has never before cooked anything he has grown or grown anything he has cooked and it is delightful to watch him enthusiastically discover the delights of this.

Graham, Treena and Tom admire Graham's new garden

Another great encounter during this trip was meeting Rich Dixon from A Rocha an organization that is doing exciting work around the world to preserve God’s good creation and feed the hungry in the process.  A Rocha Canada is developing a list of community gardens in Canada that is worth a look.  And while I am talking about such things Beth Stedman just sent me a link to a fascinating site World Food Garden, that lists community gardens and CSAs all over the world.

Funny, but I think that many of us could miss being a part of this incredible movement of God’s spirit because we have preconceived ideas about what a movement of God looks like.  Movements of God are about worship and professions of faith.  Or we think they are about big numbers gathering together to worship.  God’s spirit could not possibly be concerned about the development of a few square meters of garden in our church parking lots.  Or could it?

It is my belief that God’s desire is to bring to wholeness all that is broken and scarred in our world.  Above all God is in the business of restoring our relationship to him, our relationship to each other and our relationship to God’s good creation as well.  Establishing community gardens accomplishes all of these.

So many sincere followers of Christ confess to me that they feel much closer to God in the garden than they ever do in a church.  Which really shouldn’t surprise us as the first place we see humankind communing with God is in the garden as God walked with Adam and Eve in the cool of the evening.

Catie shares her garden knowledge with a friend

Community gardening also strengthens relationships between people as they work together, eat together and just generally have fun together.  In the garden it seems there are no barriers between young and old, rich and poor, male and female, white and non white.  We are all one together learning to share life in a way that I think is part of God’s great plan for us.

And last but not least community gardening strengthens our relationship to God’s good creation, and draws us back to God’s original commission for humankind – to tend the garden and make it flourish.

So if you have not yet joined this movement maybe it is time that you thought about it.  God is at work and we have the opportunity to join in the incredible things that God is doing.

Starting a Faith-based Community Garden

Community garden Lynden WA

I am doing some research in preparation for my Spirituality of Gardening seminars in Seattle and Lynden in a couple of weeks and thought that some of you might be interested in some of the resources I have come across on starting a faith based community garden.  A number of the participants at my seminars are in the midst of helping their churches start community gardens and it is good to know that there are some great resources out there.  Here are some of the best that I have found:

Tips for Starting a Faith Based Community Garden

Faith Based and Neighbourhood Partnerships in the Age of Obama

Eat Smart, Move More North Carolina: Growing Communities Through Gardens

One of the best blogs I have found on faith based gardening is Sparks in the Soil

I will continue to add to this list over the next few weeks if you are interested and would love to hear from those of you that have other resources to add to the list too.