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What is it?
A community garden is a place where people from your church and the community can come together to plant, grow and celebrate. Usually growing fruits and vegetables, your garden can separate plots for individuals/groups or one big shared space.
Some congregations focus on the creation care aspect of providing local, healthy food. Other focus on the community connection aspect.
Genesis 2 describes humanity as being created to serve as God’s gardeners. We are the Adam drawn from the Adamah. Community gardens give us a taste of that original vocation, as we work for the “Coming reconciliation and renewal… of the whole creation (Basis of Union)”
Getting involved in healthy, local food production also raises our awareness of the unsustainable food systems on which we all rely, and helps us join with the wider community to bring about positive change. The garden is a small seed, a mustard seed, whose influence grows far beyond its actual size.
The garden is a place to meet each other, the community, and God. As Martin Luther said, “God is entirely and personally present in the wilderness, in the garden, in the field.”
What are the benefits?
- Some people find it easier to talk if they have something to do. Much like a craft or coffee event, working together on the garden can be a great way to have conversations without the formality of a sit-down discussion.
- You can grow cheap healthy/sustainable fruit and veg with your local community.
Example: Neutral Bay Uniting Church
In August 2012, the Neutral Bay Uniting Church transformed the vacant land around the church into a lush, sustainable garden. Now, the garden has become a welcome addition to the neighbourhood, delighting passersby with its ever-changing landscape of greenery, colour and fragrance. In the past 5 years, over 200 people have participated. The currently has over 100 different varieties of fruits, vegetables, herbs, succulents, flowers and fragrant plants. We also have a number of unusual child favourites, such as Ice Cream Bean trees (which produce bean pods that taste like vanilla ice cream), Chocolate Pudding Fruit and Chinese Lantern plants. Our initial aim was to engage with the greater Neutral Bay community and reach out and get to know our neighbours on a social basis.
Our church had prime land (albeit long and very narrow) that was not being used at all. We decided that a garden would be a great way to engage the community. After developing a first plan, we decided to hold an Open House and invite the entire community to attend and provide feedback. The Mosman Daily agreed to publicise the event, and we posted announcements in local businesses. The community turned out in masses, and after we presented our vision, the group engaged in lively discussion followed by continued conversations over coffee, tea and refreshments. Our plan was working!
Whilst our initial vision was to sell independent plots, one of the attendees suggested a communal garden in which all gardeners worked together for the common good. Ultimately we sold garden shares for $25 each, and gardeners were given a choice to have their shares as independent or communal. Virtually everyone took the communal option, and we became a tightly knit group of people working together for a common good. We now charge each household $30 for a one year membership, and the garden is 100% communal. Probably the garden’s greatest achievement is the large number of enduring (and unlikely) friendships that have been formed.
What you’ll need to do
- Get your people together. Find a group of likeminded people and speak to your church council.
- Community gardens are a group effort, but it helps if at least two/three person is committed to driving the activity.
- Not everyone has to do everything. Some people might be most interested in designing or building the garden, while others are keen on planting. Some people want to be there every day, while others can only come once every couple of weeks. Some might want to cater for the gardeners, eventually using produce from the site. You also need eye catching signs, someone to source tools out of people’s dusty sheds…
- Find a suitable site.
- Decide early if you want to build on church property, or work with the community on another site.
- Disused tennis courts, overflow parking and random patches of lawn have all become great community gardens.
- Make sure your site has plenty of sunlight, is easily accessible and close to a water supply.
- If there is already a garden in town, you could join in with them as a church.
- No land? Then start with a garden working bee club: working in each other’s gardens, or visiting the elderly who are struggling to maintain theirs. Some people focus on setting up links between fit young people with no land, and elderly people who don’t want to have to sell up, but can’t maintain their properties.
- If you don’t have the space, people or time to make your own garden, consider getting involved in an established garden nearby.
Kippax Uniting Church
“The Kippax garden is a shared community one – rather than individual plots, we all work on any or all of the various garden beds on site. It is great to see people come specifically to spend time in the garden, or to have children and families do some gardening on the way to or from one of the other activities, or people use it as a “waiting room activity” before one of the other events at Kippax.”
– Meg, Kippax Uniting Church