Gardening is in my DNA. I grew up in a family that has a large agricultural business, so to be in a garden gives me great joy. It’s been thrilling to be involved in developing a 2-acre community garden at Asbury Theological Seminary over the past two years. The community garden has become a place where students and their families, staff, faculty, and even local community members can grow fresh, organic food and have opportunities for relationship, recreation, education and formation.
When I think about the Kingdom of God and community gardening, I think about the opportunity that our community has to experience “Shalom” or right relationship with God, right relationship with each other, and right relationship with God’s creation. Here are some ways this “Shalom” is being lived out in our community through the community garden.
Community Garden as a Food Source
Food grown in the community garden this year has not been sold. From early April to the present, the garden has had fresh, 100% organic produce available for U-Pick for our seminary community. This has greatly increased the number of people utilizing the community garden and eating the food. Food has also been given to our dining services for distribution to our students, and a weekly Free Farmers’ Market has been available for our students outside the student center.
Food from the garden has also been shared with those in need. Every week members of our seminary community have harvested food to donate to Embrace Church’s Monday night meal that serves people in low income and homeless circumstances. As we’ve become aware of food needs in our Seminary community, food has been generously given. People struggling with low incomes or homelessness need healthy food to eat. Unhealthy food is often the least expensive; therefore, many low income families suffer from eating the most unhealthy food. This leads to health problems and a shorter life span. Gardening, especially organic gardening, can provide healthy, nutritious food to eat, leading to physical well-being.
Community Garden as Community Builder
Every gardening season 35 individual (4’ by 8’) garden plots are rented out to our seminary and local Wilmore community members to grow their own food. It is a requirement that each plot also have a back-up buddy gardener when the primary renter in unavailable or goes on vacation. New community garden park elements were added this year (stone fence entrance, gazebo, 5 cedar benches, 2 fire pits and a 1-mile nature path) to also help facilitate community building. People have come together in the garden for garden parties, bonfires, a fun run on the nature path, and recreation on the garden walking paths. Couples in our community have increasingly used the walking path in the garden for evening strolls, date nights, or a space for family time with children and in-laws when they would visit. The food grown and u-picked in the garden also helped create many shared meals and times for families in our community to connect with each other over good, healthy, 100% organic food.
Community Garden as Eco-Seminary
The community garden has become the seminary’s outdoor classroom. Sixteen garden workshops were offered by local gardening experts to the seminary and Wilmore community this past spring and fall. Topics included: Soil Preparation, Planting and Transplanting, Composting, The Blessing of Bees, Organic Gardening Principles, etc. Average attendance was about 10-15 people at each workshop, with a total of around 200 people involved.
Community Garden as Spiritual Formation
The garden has increasingly become a space where our community can connect with God through His creation, especially as the park elements have been completed. Many members of our community started using the cedar benches, the gazebo, or the grass as a place of solitude and devotional space.The beauty of the orchard in bloom, the bees buzzing around the blue lavender and white flowering basil, and the fruitful harvest all had the potential to point our community’s eyes to the LORD of the harvest and creation. Also, every week in the months of June and July, a Back Porch Art youth gardening program helped educate and form our seminary youth through planting seeds, weeding, and harvesting. The community garden provided a tangible illustration for an instructor and parents to teach their children lessons from the Bible on spiritual planting, sowing, and reaping.
Community Garden as Ministry Training
It was no mistake that when God created human beings, he put them in a garden. Gardening is about preparing the soil, planting the seeds, watering and caring for the plants, and harvesting the fruits.
Gardening has a direct spiritual parallel for the way God intends for us to do His ministry. His ministry involves transforming people’s lives and follows the model of preparing the spiritual soil, planting the seed of the Gospel in people’s lives, caring for others through discipleship, and seeing them become fruitful followers.
I lead a small business incubator gardening cohort at Asbury Seminary. The purpose of the incubator program is to give a cohort of 10 future pastors experiential learning in the area of economic development as a means of empowerment, evangelization, and social entrepreneurship. Through this experience we hope that these future pastors will be better able to understand and encourage the business people in their future congregations after running a small business themselves.
Benefits of gardening
The community garden has provided many benefits to our seminary community:
- Opportunities to build relationship and community
- Health benefits from eating fresh, 100% organic food
- Health benefits from the exercise one does while gardening, especially stress reduction
- Chance to see and experience God’s beautiful creation
- Opportunity to be spiritually formed by the many lessons learned from gardening. One learns a lot about faith as a farmer. Example: A seed is planted in the ground. It takes faith to believe the seed will grow into a fruitful plant.