The idea of community gardening has exploded across Canada. Raised beds, large plots, and, in a few places, entire fields are devoted to the cause. Gardens are bursting with corn, tomatoes, cauliflower, broccoli, carrots, onions, leeks, cucumbers, zucchini, potatoes, and more. But to certain MB churches in Ontario, Manitoba, and B.C., gardens are about more than vegetables – they are ministry.
At Orchard Park Bible Church, Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont., a small group works in a labour of love. Orchard Park’s gardeners provide fresh organic produce to Hannah House (a home for mothers 21 years and under), Gillian’s (a shelter for abused women and children), the meals-on-wheels program at Cornerstone MB Church, Virgil, Ont., and the Salvation Army.
Two sisters with a passion for gardening, Rose Bartel and Judy Miller dreamed up the plan in 2009, gathered a team, and turned an unproductive plot of land beside the church into a bountiful harvest that benefits many. This year, their garden doubled in size. Orchard Park’s deacon committee takes an active role in delivering the food.
The sisters say they desire to share in a tangible way the blessings they have received from God and to open doors in the community in a “non-typical, non-churchy way.” In addition to produce, they also deliver cut flowers to seniors.
At Boissevain (Man.) MB Church, Kathy Peters is part of Faith Works, an inter-church group comprised of lay people. One of their projects is maintaining the primary community garden in town and keeping in close contact with a local farmer who maintains a secondary garden outside of town with the help of neighbours. They deliver their produce to the local food pantry.
“We are a people of faith,” says Peters, “whose mission and vision is to work together in our community while promoting hands-on care and Christian service.” Peters admits it can be a stretching ministry. This year, the rain dampened their efforts, making gardening difficult. Summertime also creates scheduling challenges, but gardeners say it’s rewarding to work together, knowing people in their community benefit from the ministry.
Saanich Community Church, Victoria, B.C., donates their produce to Mustard Seed, a local food bank. Allison Gratz is part of the coordination team for the garden and says the idea was inspired by A Rocha, a Christian conservation organization focused on caring for all of God’s creation. Now in its fourth season, the garden has grown almost everything imaginable from vegetables, to herbs, to fruit trees and vines.
The Saanich garden has many dimensions: social outreach, a lesson in stewardship, and an opportunity to teach the next generation how to garden and care for the earth. (The youngest gardener is two years old.) “Seeing the garden flourish is a wonderful testimony about what is possible when believers work together. Anyone can make a difference,” says Gratz.
These gardens grow more than simple produce; they grow a sense of community that shows “as Christians, we care about others, and God cares even more,” says Peters.