Ripe for the harvest: Community gardens in the IGRC
By Christina Krost
The most recent data from Feeding America.org shows that 48.1 million Americans live in food insecure households, including 32.8 million adults and 15.3 million children. In the over 60 age group, 5.4 million seniors, or 9 percent, were food insecure. Food insecurity is the state of being without reliable access to a sufficient quantity of affordable, nutritious food. In the US, hunger isn’t caused by a lack of food, but rather the continued prevalence of poverty.
One can see these statistics lived out in both rural and urban America, where many low-income families live in “food deserts” and lack the transportation necessary to get to fully stocked grocery stores. Instead, they live on inexpensive processed foods found in convenience stores, which are high in sugar and carbs and low in nutrition. These foods are not good for the growing bodies of children, but are often all their families can afford. Sadly, they are also the foods distributed in many feeding assistance programs.
The United Methodist Social Principles on The Natural World has a statement on Food Justice which reads:
“We support policies that increase access to quality food, particularly for those with the fewest resources. We affirm local, sustainable, and small-scale agriculture opportunities that allow communities to feed themselves. We decry policies that make food inaccessible to the communities where it is grown and the farmworkers involved in its growth.”
United Methodists around the world are called to steward the land and care for one another as a reflection of our love of God. And the Illinois Great Rivers Conference is answering that call in amazing ways: by hosting community gardens.
Why community gardens?
Community gardens provide locally grown produce to those that cannot afford to obtain it otherwise.
They are also great spaces for spending time outdoors, building community relations, and educating people about healthy eating. Sizes vary depending on the space available to the church. Gardens can be on the church’s property or located somewhere in the community. Some churches opt to build raised beds and truck in loads of topsoil, others simply till up the ground and plant directly in the earth. The idea and leadership for a community garden can be pastor driven or laity led.
Gardens can be tended by youth, seniors, families, church members and non-church members alike. Some gardens pledge percentages of their harvests to local food pantries and feeding ministries, others benefit the volunteers who put in time weeding and watering. Some gardens have large budgets and receive funding from grants, others cost little more than a few packets of seeds.
But gardens of all sizes make an impact in their community. What these gardens and their workers have in common is a desire to be a light in their communities. They heed the call of Isaiah 58:10 which says, “If you pour yourself out for the hungry and satisfy the desire of the afflicted, then shall your light rise in the darkness and your gloom be as the noonday.”
Though the work involved with a garden might seem daunting, the opportunity for connection and community building is almost certainly worth the trouble.
Do you see food insecurity in your own community? How is your congregation responding to this need?
(Christina Krost is an elementary teacher turned mom turned United Methodist pastor’s wife turned climate justice advocate. She does outreach support for Faith in Place (www.faithinplace.org), an interfaith Earth care non-profit. She lives with her husband, Todd, and her three young daughters in Neoga, as they serve Grace, Etna and Toledo UMC. She blogs at 5matches.com).
Related story: Profiles of IGRC community gardens
Resources on community gardens