There’s something deeply rewarding about growing and eating your own food, and what better way to get your hands dirty than in a community garden? Dianne Jensen talks to Uniting Church congregations who are digging deep in search of connection.
As backyards shrink or disappear and our memories of home-grown produce fade, a quiet revolution is taking place across Australia. Community spaces are being transformed into shared gardens where individuals and families tend their own plots or pitch in together.
For churches looking for ways to better utilise their facilities, community gardens have created new opportunities for mission, says Uniting Green liaison David Weddell.
“Churches have realised this is a way we can connect with our local community,” says David. “Just from a purely practical level, being part of a community garden you can learn from other people about what are the best tips for growing things. From a church perspective, sometimes the conversations might go deeper than that; we share our different advice or opinions or experience on growing carrots but we might also share our advice, experience and opinions on life … that’s where the more spiritual or the real relationship bit happens.”
David facilitates the Community Gardens (Uniting Church) Facebook group, and he says there is no one-size-fits-all model.
“A big garden works well if your church has a huge chunk of land. You can divide it up and a family can say, yes, we would like this chunk and we’ll take care of that. Others are smaller and more shared—here is the area, and if you’ve got an interest in strawberries, grow some here, but we’ll all water the garden and the guy who loves doing composting, he’ll compost the whole garden.
“There’s also the model of going offsite, where people from your church join the local community garden. The logistics are up to your individual circumstances—the core is having an activity where Christians and non-Christians can interact and form community.”
Community gardens attract everyone from older couples down-sizing to people living in high-rises or renting.
“Like any successful community project, community gardens mentor novices, encourage people to actually get their hands dirty, and celebrate success together,” says David.
Sowing the seeds
The garden at Mudgeeraba Uniting Church on the Gold Coast began three years ago with a school holiday project to assemble a timber garden kit. Passionate gardener Diane Kelly and other church volunteers gradually added seven more beds, and the garden is now producing an abundance of fresh, organically-grown vegetables, herbs and flowers.
“Those experiences have united us—dirty hands and rubber boots definitely help us get to know each other!” says Diane. “I’ve noticed that after church, people now tend to gravitate to the garden and take a look at what is growing–and they chat to one another, and enjoy a different environment for fellowship.”
Once the initial setup is done, “no dig” gardens don’t require a lot of work, she adds.
“Watering needs to be done regularly, but the tranquility of the early evening in a quiet spot, or the pleasure of watching the bees visit flowers in the early morning makes that job worthwhile.
“The dream for the future is simple–to teach our community how to grow their own food—and then to bring the excess to our church hall to prepare and share meals together. This would involve time and education, but would be a wonderful experience,” says Diane.
Many hands make light work
The garden at Sunnybank Uniting Church in Brisbane grew out of the men’s shed which the church started three years ago in partnership with Sunnybank RSL.
Congregation member David Pitt, secretary of the gardening committee, says that some of the 50 men who joined up were just as happy to work outside under the gum trees, and the garden concept was born.
“We spent the first 18 months building sleeper-type beds and digging up the ground and putting fruit trees in and doing all sorts of other things, followed by a grand opening in May this year,” says David.
With the help of a Brisbane City Council grant, the “sheddies” have built a potting shed, a tool shed, two greenhouses and an office, and there are a growing number from the community joining the gardening group.
The garden operates on a membership model and is overseen by a management team responsible to the church council. There is no ownership of plots, and members are encouraged to grow produce as they please or to simply join in with the general maintenance.
“There’s always plenty of work to be done in a garden,” says David. “The fact is that we are now doing something with this huge area of church land, and beautifying it, and everyone is much happier with the arrangement.”
Caring for the earth
Growing and harvesting our own food re-connects us with the beauty of this fragile earth, says David Weddell.
“In a way it’s extending the biblical tradition of Adam and Eve–taking care of a garden. We have been left a wonderful earth to nurture and sometimes we don’t do that good a job of it. Here’s an opportunity to say—this is our little section of the earth, we are going to take really good care of at least this bit.”
Find Trinity Uniting Church, Wellington Pt and Community Gardens (Uniting Church) on Facebook.
The Bells Reach Community Garden is established in Aura City, south of Caloundra as part of a large community space. There are 16 private plots bid for each year by local households and a long shared bed. The BELLS Faith Community has two beds, open to passers-by, and members serve on the garden committee.
BELLS helped organise the official opening of the garden and has been asked to facilitate summer evening get-togethers every second Friday.
Trinity Uniting Church, Redlands
The Trinity Uniting Gardening Group is situated on the southern end of the property at Wellington Point. The garden was started in 2013 and went in to disrepair by October 2014. In June 2015, the decision was taken to re-establish it with a view of reaching out to the local community. There are now six church families and three community families enjoying the fruits of their labour.
Through the support of Councillor Wendy Boglary we received a grant from the Redland City Council and have built six raised garden beds with the view to having our playgroups and other community groups use them.
Faithworks Uniting Community, Brisbane
The Coorparoo Community Garden is located behind the manse at Faith Works @ Coorparoo. Presently there are community beds and individual plots. We hold a community working bee on the first Saturday of each month to work the communal beds where the produce is shared. The other beds are cared for by family groups.
One family in the district rang and asked for a plot as they are tenants and didn’t want to lose their crop if they had to move. They are now part of our church family and join us for our monthly pizza nights where we use our produce on our wood-fired pizzas.