Tulsa Church's Community Garden => New Outreach Model?


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Environmental stewardship. Interfaith dialogue. Community outreach. Organic gardening. Feeding the Hungry.

Each of those undertakings is challening in its own right. But for Amy Lee and the Tulsa First SDA Church, a Hiram Edson-like vision in a field led to an opportunity to do them all at once.

"I was out walking and saw an empty field and thought, 'That would be a wonderful place for a garden,'" says Lee.

"Then, I truly feel like God connected the dots for me over the next mile of walking. I thought of the empty land our church had and realized what we could do with it. The idea continued to solidify over the next couple of weeks."

Amy Lee, the Health Ministries director for the Tulsa, Oklahoma congregation, envisioned turning a plot of ground adjacent to the church into a community garden where church members and community members alike could grow organic food and ornamental plants.

Lee made a PowerPoint presentation and pitched the idea to the church board.

"Everyone was truly excited about the idea. They voted to empower me to make any decisions needed to move forward with the project."

Because many of the church members live some distance from the church, only a few congregants could participate. Lee saw the garden as being a truly community project.

"I decided to set up a meetup group on meetup.com (www.meetup.com/tulsa-community-garden). Apparently it was the right time and place. I received e-mails over the next few weeks about people joining the group and there was a lot of excitement about the concept of a community garden of this magnitude. I had no idea as to how much enthusiasm this project would attract."

The community, Lee says, rallied around the garden and the opportunity to grow healthy, organic food for themselves, their families, and for the community. The garden donates a portion of the community plots' food to Iron Gate, a ministry of the Trinity Episcopal Church that provides meals for Tulsa's homeless population on a daily basis.

Lee admits that at the outset, she knew very little about gardening.

"One of the first things I did was try to surround myself with people who do know what they are doing. I have a neighbor who is a horticulturist that I used as a knowledge source and I found out soon after starting the project that another woman I had been in a children’s music class with for three years also happened to be a horticulturist. These two women, especially the latter, became very important in the planning process of the garden."

The Tulsa Adventist church allocated land, about ¼ acre, and provides water for the garden. Five members of the church, including Lee, have individual plots in garden.

For Lee the garden, called Haven of Harmony Community Garden in honor of Elmer and Delores Harmon (longtime church gardeners) can serve as a model for other churches that have land that is not being used.

"In our area we already have had three churches (non-Adventist) considering the idea as a result of our garden’s existence," Lee notes.

"I think this could begin a movement of community service on a whole new level. By allotting land for a community garden, a church is saying, 'we care about the community, the planet (by growing food locally, we contribute in a very real way to a decrease in fossil fuel use), and providing a source for personal enrichment on a spiritual (witnessing to the community about God’s love while working side by side), physical (physical fitness and healthy eating are natural results of participation), and emotional level (the garden provides a unique social network of like-minded people).'"

Lee also sees the garden as a springboard for other health outreach opportunities. The church plans to offer classes on fitness, nutrition, and cooking on an ongoing basis, in hope that the church can become an example of health and wellness within the community.

The project has attracted members throughout the Tulsa metro area. Each member rents an individual plot for $20. Members are free to grow the food or flowers of their choice, but are asked to use no chemical fertilizers. Growers utilize a "lasagna gardening" technique, which requires no tilling, and is completely organic. Members also volunteer time to a community plot that produces food for Iron Gate.

One of the garden plots belongs to a local Episcopal church that is considering creating a garden on its own church grounds after reading about the Haven of Harmony garden. For now, the church is learning by participating in the Haven of Harmony project.

For other congregations that are interested in beginning a similar project, Lee has this advice:

"Find someone who has a passion for working hard to change people’s lives, to lead the project. It is extremely time consuming (in the beginning at least) for the person in charge, but the satisfaction in knowing you are doing something to truly change the world around you is amazingly satisfying.

"Pray for God’s blessing," she continues.

"I have found that this project is something God ordained from the beginning (obviously God has a bit of a passion for gardens himself).

"Surround yourself with knowledgeable people. Remember you don’t have to have all the answers when you embark on this project. Learn as you go. Think big. This idea (at least in our area) is very new and therefore not everyone understands it – there are always nay sayers. Don’t get discouraged. Just love the project - project enthusiasm and it will be catching!"

NEW! See photos of the project on Spectrum's Flickr page.


This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/1635