Community Garden Reaps Multiple Rewards

Published 12:00 am Thursday, November 5, 2009

Can churches impact our air quality?

The answer is an emphatic ěYes.î One way is through community gardens.

The average vegetable now travels about 1,500 miles to get from farm to fork. By producing our own vegetables and giving them to those who can benefit from them, we solve a number of problems: We help those in need and we reduce the amount of produce that has to travel across the country, thereby minimizing transport, reducing fuel usage, improving air quality and lowering our carbon footprint.

Here is how one congregation took a leadership role in doing just that.

Parishioners at St. Lukeís Episcopal Church in Salisbury were galvanized last year by the Faith, Spirituality and Environmental Stewardship Conference at the Center for the Environment. They emerged from the conference wanting to do something practical to connect their faith with the environment.

The Rev. Whayne Hougland, the churchís rector, tapped that energy, and by the spring of this year, an idea that had been in the back of his mind became a seeds-and-mulch reality. A 25-foot by 60-foot garden began to take shape about a block from the church on city-owned land.

ěThe whole idea was to come together as a community and grow vegetables that we could give away,î Hougland says. ěThis was an important venture not only to bring us together as a community and to teach us how to grow and harvest produce ń to get us connected to that relationship with the earth ń but also to recognize that what is grown in the world is ours to share.î

Last fall, Hougland and Dr. John Wear, executive director of the Center for the Environment, collaborated on a Sunday School forum on how issues of the environment connect with people of faith. ěOne telling passage in Genesis says God made humankind stewards over all of creation,î Hougland says. ěThat word ëstewardí has been misunderstood to mean ëcontrol overí or ëownership of,í but it really means ëworking withí or ëbeing responsible for.íî

In taking responsibility for this particular plot of land, the parishioners have reaped a number of rewards. For one thing, they have already harvested bushel baskets full of vegetables. ěI grew up in the country, but I didnít expect this great bounty,î Hougland says. ěI mean, ëItís amazing that this little garden is producing so much fruit.íî

Ted and Mary Blanton of the Blanton Law Firm next door have allowed parishioners to hook their hoses up to the facilityís outdoor spigot, so they, too, are contributing to the bounty.

Service facilities in Salisbury receive the produce ń lettuce and onions, squash and tomatoes, okra and peppers and tons of cucumbers. The original idea was to give the vegetables to Rowan Helping Ministries, but then someone suggested that the Family Crisis Center also needed food. Then that prompted additional gifts of socks and shampoo.

ěSo it has gone beyond the immediate tangible fruit,î Hougland says. ěPeople are beginning to see how they can connect it to other needs. Itís all part of the great bounty that is coming from the garden.î

The children are involved, too. They planted a wildflower garden on Pentecost, and the Vacation Bible School students planted a pumpkin patch to put flesh on their stewardship of creation theme.

It has been a way to build relationships in addition to raising vegetables. ěItís good old-fashioned sitting down together pulling weeds and talking about stuff thatís going on in town and in the world,î Hougland says. ěWe get to know people in a way that we wouldnít otherwise ń another fruit of the experience.î

The city is so pleased with the effort that officials want to use St. Lukeís community garden as a model for other organizations to use city property in a similar way. Says Hougland: ěThatís the kind of leadership we want to provide.î