A community garden is an area of private or public land that is designated for shared gardening. In 2018, there were more than 29,000 community gardens in city parks alone. As more Americans continue to choose apartments or homes with less acreage, these types of growing spaces are becoming more popular.
Gardening is a valuable hobby. Healthy produce and financial savings top the list of benefits, but community gardens offer other advantages. They are good for the environment, support neighborhood development and provide educational opportunities. Community gardens can be a great tool for churches to provide important resources to the people they serve.
The Foundry Christian Community Center is an example of how a UMC ministry can include gardening as part of their outreach. The Foundry offers a community garden that ministers to one of the lowest economic areas of Bowling Green, Kentucky. With the nearest supermarket almost four miles away, many families without vehicles struggle to find or afford fresh fruits and vegetables. By providing communal space on their property, families can grow their own food. In addition, the garden offers an opportunity for The Foundry preschool students to learn more about food growth and healthy eating.
Portsmouth United Methodist Church in Portsmouth, RI, hosts a garden project that allows them to gift produce to neighbors and flowers to local nursing homes and shut-ins. First United Methodist Church in Gonzales, LA, stocks their food pantry with produce grown in their gardens. Churches have proven that gardening offers great ministry opportunities. Start your own community garden, with a few basic steps:
Before you begin, determine if there is a need or a desire for a community garden. Not everyone enjoys gardening. If there aren’t enough participants, direct your efforts towards a different ministry.With sufficient interest, the next step is to determine what type of garden would be most useful. Gardeners can grow trees, fruits and vegetables, herbs, flowers or a combination of items. What kind of garden you want to grow will affect the type of land you need, how that land will be prepared and whether or not you will need above-ground beds.
Find a plot.
If your church has land, you may want to start your own community garden on the church property. If not, you will need to find a private or public piece of land that will be suitable. The land should be large enough for your purposes and relatively free of debris (or easy to clear). It should have at least 6-8 hours of sun, and some type of water access. Once an area is found, you will need to contact the owner to obtain appropriate permission.
Prepare the area.
To turn a vacant lot into a community garden, you will need to prepare the grounds for gardening. Again, the type of preparation will, in large part, be determined by the type of garden you are planning. Recruit volunteers to till, fertilize and divide the ground into plots. Get others to build and fill above-ground beds. Assign a committee or board who oversees the garden. They should create the application process, user contracts, fee structure and the rules.
Plan the garden.
Garden planning apps, gardening classes and a community garden checklist may be helpful resources in establishing the processes, layout, and plans for the garden. The American Community Gardening Association’s articles and resources may also be beneficial.
Manage the garden.
Once assigned and operational, have someone oversee ongoing garden bed management. You may want to garner donations of seeds or seedlings to help gardeners get started. Have staff or volunteers monitor water usage, shared tool maintenance and rule enforcement.
Expand the ministry.
Hosting a community garden opens a host of possibilities for further ministry opportunities. Consider installing compost heaps, picnic tables and rain collection barrels. To increase the garden's impact, choose one bed to provide food for the homeless. Gardeners could also donate a part of their yield to a local food pantry or soup kitchen. You can also encourage program longevity by building community between gardener families with picnics and events.
The church can draw more than bees with a community garden. A community garden is a way to create interest in your church, get to know members of your community and show the love of Christ in a tangible way.
Tricia K. Brown is a writer, editor, keynote speaker and Bible teacher. In addition to being a wife and mother of four sons, she is the sole proprietor of The Girls Get Together, where she and her team provide women's event programs for churches and other organizations. Her latest book, A Year of Yearning: A 12-Month Devotional to Help You Study God's Word More, is available from Amazon.