(Editor’s Note: Several months back Shawn James, a Landscape Architect student at the time, contacted us with a fascinating community gardening resource for church communities that he developed from his master’s thesis which was titled ‘Stewardship Gardening: Multifarious Meanings through Community, Ecology, and Food’. While I cannot say that this paper completely aligns with our theological convictions I am impressed at Shawn’s undertaking and believe that his critical analysis of how faith-based community gardens are created is a gift to the Church at large. Even though for most of us cold weather has closed down the growing season, now is the time for planning and dreaming for this next year’s gardening activities. If you are a traditional congregation, Christian community or a group of friends wanting to embody your faith here is a great starting point to begin plotting your course toward your new community garden. A big thanks to Shawn, who is now serving in the Peace Corp in Mali. Thank you for making this available to us all.)
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The right circumstances for resources to come together when religious organizations and passions converge for gardening is quite remarkable. During the Summer of 2010 I had the opportunity to help design Good Ground Garden of First Presbyterian Church in Champaign, IL. As a Landscape Architecture student, my role was to aid the garden committee in determining the meaning and purpose of the quarter acre farmland converted to community garden and then to translate that into a design on paper while offering technical advice. Despite planning efforts, there were several unexpected difficulties throughout the season, as is generally the case in gardening. These included funding for a water pump, an early season flood followed by a late season drought, and an uncoordinated harvest leaving many tomatoes to fall. Nevertheless, someone always knew somebody else with certain equipment or another person would step forward with past experience. I found that the ability of these gardens to form was more about individuals’ willingness and belief in service through gardening than about tangible resources.

What exactly is it that gets people take action in light of community issues? This question is central to environmental concerns as true change will occur not from technological prowess, but from grassroots efforts by individuals. Using Good Ground Garden as a case study, I sought to explore peoples’ conceptions of spirituality in the garden and how it shapes their actions, or vice versa. Many could relate to a garden as a sacred place. As one gardener noted, “Our being is intrinsically linked with the well being of the life around us…For me, that’s something that feeds into the pleasure I get out of gardening, the idea that things are growing, and the seasons, the cycles, just the excitement of putting a seed in the ground that eventually becomes something that feeds people…I think it’s sort of inherently spiritual whether people recognize it or not.” This gardener expressed a more ecocentric perspective in relating gardening to spirituality.

Using my experience and interviews with gardeners, I completed a thesis to support the creation of future – what I deem – Stewardship Gardens by showing how differing values may lead to various gardening types. For further information on Good Ground Garden, the interviews with gardeners, and a historical look at Stewardship Gardening, check out my thesis at http://hdl.handle.net/2142/24257.

Download the Stewardship Gardening Guide, which helps churches and organizations discover how their values match with different forms of gardening.

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