|Community gardening is being used in imaginative and effective ways to address many of today's societal ills. It is especially effective in the combating of hunger and the building of community. It also brings such side benefits as stress relief, better health and nutrition, a closer physical and spiritual connection with God's creation, and a deeper commitment to responsible stewardship of the earth.|
Community Food Insecurity
The US Action Plan on Food Security defines food security as
a condition that exists "when all people at all times have physical
and economic access to sufficient food to meet their dietary needs for
a productive and healthy life."
Of the 36 million people who suffer from community food insecurity in the United States, 14 million are children. Of the 36 million, about 10 million3.4 million of whom are childrenlive in households that suffer directly from hunger. The remaining 26 million are only one or two setbacks away from going hungry.
Those most affected by community food insecurity are the working poor,
the elderly, children living in poverty, residents of isolated rural
areas and of low-income inner-city neighborhoods, homeless people, single-parent
householdsespecially those headed by women, and immigrants who
have lost benefits through welfare reform.
Further, many community gardens are being used to help build job skills. There are community gardens that market their surplus, that advertise, that transport their produce, that process their food, that put on cooking demonstrations, and that teach proper diet and nutrition. Many people involved in such community-gardening programs have found their niche in life and have gone on to pursue new and rewarding careers.
One of the common components of successful community gardens is the direct involvement of children and youth. In a garden, watching the wonders of nature unfold, the young develop an understanding and appreciation of how food is grown and an awareness of the importance of responsible stewardship of the earth.
Community gardening also has transforming effectsnot just in turning junk-filled vacant lots into green and refreshing gardens but also in changing the very character of the community. Recently, I received an E-mail message from Dorene Pasekoff, the coordinator of St. John's United Church of Christ Organic Community Garden in Phoenixville, Pennsylvania. She wrote: "What was most dramatic after we moved the garden to the Fairview Housing Project was the folks who didn't show up after the garden opened. The field had been the site of notorious nighttime drinking parties and drag races before the garden was sited there. Those folks have moved on. Now parents who live in the project feel safe enough to let their children play in the field next to the garden. Now one finds a ball, soccer nets, and bikes left around the garden. This never would have happened before we were there because the parents were too afraid of the people partying to let their children near the area."
Gardens and Health
I know of no major world religion that does not recognize the holiness
of nature. Both the Hebrew and the Christian Scriptures are full of
agrarian language and illustrations. Gardening helps us to understand
those illustrations better, giving us a keener insight into the ways
in which the Creator is reflected in Creation.
Traditional fruits and vegetables whose natural colors, textures, and tastes have almost been forgotten are called heirloom vegetables. They offer great joy and pleasure in their production and consumption. Undernutrition is a great problem in the war against hunger and poverty. The consumption of fresh, tasty, and nutritious fruits and vegetables is essential in this battle. Thus some schools have established gardens in order to grow their own food for the school cafeteria. Such cafeterias have seen a dramatic increase in the consumption of vegetables. One can readily see the nutritious benefit of community gardening.
Stewardship of the Earth
"Monoculture" agriculture is harmful to the land and the environment. A garden flourishes and thrives in the diversity that exists within it. Among plants, as among human beings, a monocultural society is harmful, whereas communities of diversity are healthy and thrive.
I challenge you, the reader, to consider starting a community garden within your church or your neighborhood. I challenge you, the reader, to research community food security and community gardening. I challenge all of us to roll up our sleevesboth with people like us and with others who are very differentand dig in the soil together to find peace within our very souls. Come, join us!
|The Rev. Thomas C. Henderson,
Jr., is a sixth-generation farmer and a United Methodist minister from the
South Carolina Conference who works as a consultant to the General Board
of Global Ministries in Sustainable and Urban Agriculture.
Text and photographs copyright 2001 by New World Outlook: The Mission Magazine of The United Methodist Church. Used by Permission. For reprint permission, contact New World Outlook by E-mail at email@example.com.