How Does a Garden Grow?

“I looked up and saw Joe, a 92-year old African-American man.” Both Joe and the speaker, John Greves, were working in the Community Garden project in Vancouver, Washington, across the Columbia River from Portland. “I thought of all this man had seen in his life,” John continued. “The garden was that kind of place, where young people and older people worked together. I heard stories of what it was like growing up on a farm. It was an incredible experience.”

John was one of the volunteer organizers of the garden project, as well as a worker. The garden is on one acre of a plot previously used as a research station by Washington State University. John describes it as beautiful land in an urban environment. “There’s commercial buildings and apartments up and down the street, but lots of bird life in the garden. It’s a spiritual place to be. ”

It took a lot of partnering for this garden to feed these families.

John and Joe are among 89 volunteers who gave a combined 683 hours to the garden. “The volunteer base was phenomenal,” said Larry Grell, another volunteer organizer. Volunteers planted and weeded, and weeded some more, because they weren’t using herbicides. Finally, they harvested. Almost 9,000 pounds of corn, potatoes, squash, turnips, and tomatoes were given to local food banks where it quickly went to families. The area’s unemployment rate is 14% and food banks find it difficult to get fresh produce.

It took a lot of partnering for this garden to feed these families: people laboring side by side; University land tilled and irrigated by the state extension office; the food banks’ distribution systems. But the foundational partnership was three local churches working together, and guided by the Holy Spirit. First Presbyterian and Columbia Presbyterian in Vancouver, and St. John’s Presbyterian in nearby Camas, had partnered in summer 2009 on a Habitat for Humanity house. They wanted to partner in 2010 on a garden, although it was a new idea for all of them.

They began to research. As John, a Vancouver cardiologist, tells it, “It just so happened that an article appeared in the paper on a crop of carrots planted by Bill Coleman. Bill is Mr. Food Bank in our community; he knows all the food banks and the people who run them. Bill is also a patient of mine, and I was scheduled to see him the next week. When he heard of our interest, Bill jumped in with both feet. Definitely the power of the Holy Spirit working here!”

Who is your church partnering with to serve people in need?

Bill attended several of the Saturday morning planning meetings. John ran the meetings, where his skill at “getting at lot done in a compact amount of time,” honed at the cardiology clinic, was useful. Many people stepped up to help. Those with agricultural experience formed a farm committee. Others focused on education: how many young people, they wondered, know what to do with a squash? Excitement built as everyone worked together. The garden project began with a dedication service and wound up with a harvest community celebration.

Water, soil and sun – these make a garden grow. When you add volunteer organizers and laborers, three churches in partnership, and the guiding of the Holy Spirit, that garden feeds a lot of hungry people.


Reflection Questions

  1. Who is your church partnering with to serve people in need?
  2. What resources has God given your congregation in your people? In your physical location? In your history? How might those resources benefit your community?
  3. What groups in your community might be potential partners?

Suggested resources

  • The Externally-Focused Church and The Externally-Focused Quest: Being the Best Church for the Community, books by Eric Swanson and Rick Rusaw
  • Sacred and Secular Volunteering,” August 2009 article by Karen Kogler

Know of an interesting ministry? Share it in the comments, below.

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