One of the first steps in creating a garden is planning. As you imagine and consider what type of garden your congregation might like to create, we thought it would be helpful and inspirational to include real garden success stories from our very own Interfaith Power & Light Cool Congregations. IPL’s Cool Congregations Challenge has a category every year for “Sacred Grounds Steward” and these entries were the cream of the crop.
Central United Methodist Church
Handicapped Access Garden
Central United Methodist Church, located in an ethnically and socioeconomically diverse urban area of Charlotte, NC, has furthered its environmental stewardship and education mission, by creating a community garden to benefit congregants, local residents, and the church’s food pantry. This outreach provides an opportunity to grow produce on a small carbon footprint while educating the community about the many environmental benefits of “growing local.” Using volunteer labor and fundraising, Central developed 24 plots, including raised beds for handicapped access and irrigation from a natural water source. Formerly a barren area adjacent to the parking lot, volunteers “harvested” debris, tilled, amended and fenced the space. To preserve water and enrich soil, volunteers tilled in 48 cubic yards of compost made from county recycled yard waste. The majority of Central’s active membership of 125 people participated in the project. This year’s harvest was plentiful, providing locally grown produce to congregants, neighborhood gardeners, and the church’s food pantry, which serves families from a local high-poverty, high-ESL elementary with whom Central partners. A celebration and fundraiser was held in October, where a meal including “fruits of the harvest” was shared by the congregation and neighborhood participants, along with a sustainability workshop covering composting to preserve water and complementary crop planting, combined with rotation, to preserve the land.
St. Alban’s Episcopal Church
St. Alban’s Episcopal Church recently created a football field-sized organic “jail garden” by partnering with Walton Wellness and the Walton County Sheriff’s office. The Sheriff provided the land and the supervised workers, who are inmates. Each inmate receives a day off of his or her sentence for each day worked in the garden. St. Alban’s parishioners provided time, tractors for plowing, natural cow, chicken and horse fertilizer, gardening knowledge and money for supplies, fencing and tools. They also received organic gardening guidance from a local organic grower. The vegetables that are grown are given to those in need in Walton County with St. Alban’s serving as a distribution point. There were at least 256 families (about 480 individuals) who were provided with a box of vegetables each week last summer. The garden was a help to the climate by saving gasoline for produce that didn’t have to be shipped into the area; by using organic growing practices, which saved on the manufacture, shipping and application of pesticides and fertilizers; and by inspiring the community to grow sustainable gardens. Many of the inmates have said they will grow a garden when released, as have many others in the community. The garden gives St. Alban’s a chance to be on the forefront of keeping God’s Creation clean, while feeding people who are in need.
St. Michael’s Parish
Urban Garden with Rain Water Storage
St. Michael’s created a community garden with a rain water collection system to model environmentally friendly practices that parishioners could carry into their lives and which could serve as a model for the surrounding neighborhood. Through a partnership with Nehemiah Project’s Seeds of Growth Employment Education Training Program they were able to provide urban youth with the experience of growing their own food. After receiving permission to beautify a corner nearby, the parishioners, together with Nehemiah youth, trimmed trees and brush, picked up garbage, tilled the ground and prepared it for planting. They sought expert gardening advice from Milwaukee Urban Gardens and the Victory Garden Initiative. The Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District donated a rain barrel that the Milwaukee Community Service Corp installed it. Two large water totes were donated and installed by parish members, creating a total water holding capacity of 485 gallons for the garden. The rainwater collection system promotes the use of rainwater rather than city water and it keeps the relatively clean roof water out of the sewer system. The community garden provided a positive gardening experience for urban youth who had no previous experience with gardening. Based on the garden’s success over two years, the congregation has received permission to expand the project to other vacant city lots in their area.
Adat Shalom Reconstructionist Congregation
Core Values Garden
Adat Shalom’s Mishnah Garden, now beginning its third season, has become a key part of Adat Shalom’s spiritual and physical landscape. Its name comes from the defining work of early rabbinic Judaism; the first of the Mishnah’s six sections is Z’rai’m or “Seeds”. Everything about their garden unites the study of Torah with its practice. Located just past their high-traffic social hall doors, the Mishnah Garden is already a focal point for the community, a place that unites members across generations, interests, and demographic groups. The garden also unites several core values: tikkun olam / ‘repair the world’ (less grass and fewer pesticides); shmirat ha’admah / ‘care for Creation’ (bring forth food organically using our own hands); ha’achalat re’evim / ‘feeding the hungry’; and v’shinantam l’vanecha / ‘inspiring our children’ (our 200 religious school students also help in the garden). This year, they donated 160 pounds of food to two different soup kitchens (applying skills learned from communal planting or from being a weekly “Harvest Host”, congregants donated another 40 pounds from their personal gardens). Still more ultra-local produce was served enjoyed at their weekly Sabbath luncheons, making the entire community invested in the garden. Individually and communally, the Mishnah Garden has taught Adat Shalomers to be more responsible eaters. Newly re-rooted in our history, values, and Earth, the future looks bright.
Berea Mennonite Church
Garden with a Well
Berea Mennonite Church is a small congregation that tilled its 3-acre yard to start an organic farming ministry. The red Georgia clay on which the church is situated along with the summer drought in 2010 caused the congregation to evaluate the stewardship of water resources. Irrigating the garden was consuming upwards of $4000 in city water in just two months, so they decided to drill a well. The cost was $6500, but they recouped their money in just one year. In addition, the well provides them with non-chlorinated water for irrigating plants and saves around 20,000 gallons of city water from reservoirs. The University of Georgia River Basin Science & Policy Center recommends examining all types of conservation to reduce demands upon reservoirs during peak summer months. While their church garden irrigation was a drop in the bucket compared to the 28-million gallons of water used daily in Atlanta, the church deemed it an ethical imperative to put in the well. They wanted to model good stewardship of the Earth, respecting all systems and life forms the water supports. Members are active in farming the land, selling the healthy produce at farmers’ markets, recruiting volunteers and farm interns to join the farm, putting up necessary fencing, and generally sharing in the farm labor.
Covenant Lutheran Church
Starting Small and Growing
There is a saying that if God takes you to it, he’ll get you through it. That’s how a small group of women in Texas said they felt when they suggested setting up a garden on a section of their church’s 10-acre property. Fortunately in Houston, there’s a nonprofit organization called Urban Harvest that specializes in helping people form community gardens. With their garden plan in hand and some seed money from bake sales, they were off and running. However, they were a bit intimidated to manage the cement blocks and heavy soil needed for their raised beds. So the four ladies recruited strong people from the congregation and the boy scouts to build (6) 4 ft. by 12 ft. plots, which were raised 8 inches. The soil came from a local company that specializes in composted and organically fertilized soil. A member from the congregation installed a drip irrigation system in the plots to reduce water use. A wire fence was placed around the whole garden and another member made a compost pile. The garden plots were split between church members and community organizations. One of the plots was reserved for four ladies, who often end up giving their produce to the congregation. They hope more plots will be built to allow others in the community to learn about sustainable gardening and enjoy the benefits of organically grown vegetables.