section header graphic
Search the Health Fund website for:

September 1, 2014 - Kim Moore [see other posts]

Grace Emporia Community Garden

Community Gardens

Recently, I visited two community gardens- facilitated by Hiawatha United Methodist Church and Grace United Methodist Church, Emporia. Both had received start-up grant support from the Health Fund through our Healthy Congregations program. They represent a growing interest in community gardening in Kansas communities and throughout the nation.

Community gardens are organized most frequently as "separate gardens" within a common area. Grace Emporia Community GardenPeople are assigned their own plots and grow what they want on their individual sections. Sometimes there is a per-season fee for each plot. These fees can support the cost of water, which is arranged on a communal basis. At Grace in Emporia, the fee was $30 for a raised bed in the garden, which is across the street from the church and situated in a neighborhood with a mixture of sun and shade. A handy common tool shed stores gardening supplies.

Hiawatha has raised beds spread over a very large, open plot and beds are assigned to individuals or to groups such as the church youth group. This garden is on the edge of town, on land belonging to a supportive church member.

What happens to produce from the garden plots? Much is consumed by the gardeners and their families. Some is shared with others in the garden, who may be growing different vegetables. The balance is distributed -- as all successful gardeners attempt -- taken to a church, office, neighbors, or possibly a community food bank.

[Garrison Keillor warned that you should keep your cars locked and windows rolled up in communities with gardeners during peak squash, tomato, and cucumber seasons.]

Some community gardens have discovered that local food distribution programs are not interested in their produce because people seeking food do not have experience with food preparation, don't like some garden vegetables, or lack kitchen equipment to prepare food. Grace Emporia Community GardenLocal food distribution programs also may not have appropriate storage for fresh vegetables in large quantities. In Hiawatha, this distribution issue is leading to development of community educational events for people wanting to learn more about food preparation. In some garden programs associated with The Big Garden, based in Omaha, Nebraska, basic cooking utensils and recipes are supplied to garden participants who lack food preparation equipment or experience so that the vegetable harvests can actually help reduce hunger.

Clearly, a determination of the benefits you expect from a community garden needs to guide the program start-up. Grace Emporia Community GardenIf you want a garden to meet basic nutritional (hunger) needs beyond the gardeners involved, contacts with local food distribution programs need to be established so that vegetables consumers can and will use are planted and the appropriate storage developed (cool area, canning or freezing).

If the garden is to be a community organizing or development tool, determination of the social functions of the garden should be considered. Grace in Emporia has a monthly meal with some garden and some non-garden food involved. This has developed into an educational and social event for 30-50 people. The garden might even become a small source of revenue for a group with one or more plots, such as the Hiawatha church youth group which sells excess corn to the congregation on Sunday. One benefit from community gardening can be exposure of children and youth to new foods so that their acceptance of a broader and more nutritious range of food is developed. This will require several additional ingredients to teh work -- specific engagement of children and youth in the garden, recipe distribution, and perhaps modeled behaviors through common meals.

Big Garden LogoThe Big Garden project will again in 2015 be available to assist Kansas and Nebraska United Methodist Churches wanting to develop or expand a community garden projet. Matt Freeman, with that project, can offer more advice and experience to interested congregations. Healthy Congregations program churches can apply for a mini-grant of up to $2,700 for their community garden start-ups or expansions. Other groups interested in starting community gardens should visit with their local Extension Service which can provide ideas and advice.

Community gardening when done well can offer food for hungry people, expanded food choices and experience for more nutritious eating, and community engagement and organizing for social health and community progress. However, like all activities, success in achieving important results requires clear planning and attention to intended outcomes from the beginning.