Plant A Seed--Grow a Community
Falls Brook Centre
Box 4075, Station E
174 First Avenue (corner of Bank) in Ottawa
Ottawa, Ontario, K1S 5B1
Phone: (613) 230-4590
Monday, 13 February 2012 16:23 | Written by Kathryn Guindon
"To forget how to dig the earth and to tend the soil is to forget ourselves."
Picture a vibrant community of people of faith. What the faith is doesn't matter--just people motivated by their spiritual beliefs, doing what they can to make the world a better place.
What does that group look like? Most likely, they are friendly folks, actively engaged in practical projects, as well as spiritual ones. They are tied into the needs of their local community, and run programs that meet those needs. They are approachable, and their activities are fun. You can see that they "walk the walk."
A community garden is a great way to be that kind of group. Many faith communities have land that is unused or under-used--a too-large parking lot, a big lawn that takes a lot of work to keep looking pretty. If that land gets a lot of sunlight, you've got the perfect spot for a garden.
And if you've got neighbours in apartment buildings or townhouses with little or no access to outdoor areas, if you've got neighbours on a low income who struggle to get enough nutritious food for their families, if you've got neighbours who for whatever reason can't garden at home, a community garden is a great outreach tool.
The average Canadian meal travels thousands of kilometres before it ever gets to our plate, releasing huge amounts of carbon dioxide and air pollutants. Add on top of that the heavy pesticide load on much of our produce, the health hazards of an increasingly monolithic commodity-based food industry, and the lack of availability of local, organically grown produce at an affordable price, and you've got a good idea of how a community garden can help the environment.
Think about the increasing separation between neighbours, the loss of generational knowledge as young people fail to learn the skills of their elders, and the general lack of comfortable outdoor spaces to enjoy in much of the city, and you begin to see how a garden can grow community as well as food.
As for spiritual growth, what greater act of faith is there than placing a small, hard, seemingly lifeless seed in the ground and tending it in the hope of seeing a beautiful shoot emerge days or weeks later? What more real connection is there to the web of life than feeding yourself off it?
Volunteers work on building a sod wall at the community gardens at Trinity Nazarene Church.
Photo courtesy of Rev. Franklin Chouinard.
It can be a lot of work to get a good garden going. But it can be fun, rewarding work. First make sure you have a sunny space that is suitable for growing. Good soil can be created, but if you don't have enough sunlight, not much will grow. Full sun exposure is best, to ensure the plants get at least six hours of sun all summer long, not just during the longest days of June and July.
Odds are your faith community has some sort of caretaker or committee that oversees the use of the grounds, so you'll have to talk to them (or join that committee). If your religious leaders are on side too, it can make things go a lot easier. Put the word out that you're looking for other folks to help you with this project. People like to garden - you'll find a few folks to lend a hand. Get together and talk about what you want to do, and what makes sense with your land.
Do you want to garden to serve the community, or your congregation, or a mix of both? Sometimes funding is available for starting up gardens that are open to the public, so this can be an important feature. Do you want to charge for garden plots? If so, how much, and will you subsidize spaces for low-income gardeners?
If your soil is good, some of the work is done for you. Barrhaven Fellowship Christian Reformed Church is built on century farmland, so they just dug some plots and started growing, and were able to add a storage shed and a system of rain barrels for watering the garden, instead of investing in soil and raised beds.
Bethany Baptist Church chose raised beds for their community garden. Raised beds allow you to control the quality of the soil, and help keep weeds and insects down to more manageable levels. They are also easier to reach for elderly folks or anyone who has trouble bending over for long periods of time.
Do you need to build anything? Rain barrels reduce your water bills, and give you a way to hydrate the gardens even during local watering bans. A storage shed and communal tools may make your garden plot more attractive. Building raised beds or fencing can be expensive, but can you use materials you already have, or have some donated? Trinity Nazarene Church used the sod that was removed to make the garden to build sod walls around their community garden, eliminating waste and creating a structure at the same time.
You may be surprised at the resources available within your community. Folks often have a spare spade or unused wheelbarrow lying around that they'd be happy to give or lend. Maybe someone in your congregation works at a hardware store and can get a discount on supplies.
Do you need more information? Lots of organizations offer workshops and support for getting gardens started. Just Food (www.justfood.ca) is a local group that hosts the Community Gardening Network. They run free or low-cost workshops on every aspect of starting a community garden, and even provide some funding for garden start ups. A Rocha (www.arocha.ca) is a faith-based group with a strong gardening focus, which also runs workshops.
Sometimes the best teacher is someone down the road who's done what you're trying to do. The Greening Sacred Spaces network can help connect you to other faith communities who are willing to share their experience and expertise. Contact ( Ottawa@faith-commongood.net) or visit (www.greeningsacredspaces.net) for more information.
February and March are great times to start planning a garden. If you have a lot of work to do, you may not get a community garden up this year, but that doesn't mean you can't start the ball rolling. So plant the seeds, and see what happens.
Kathryn Guindon is Eco-Spiritual Coordinator for Maison Tucker House
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