Food and Faith is a blog of the Presbyterian Hunger Program.
I work at a food pantry that supplies fresh produce and non-perishables for countless individuals and families. Just today we had 18 clients visit us in just an hour and a half! These clients range from individuals and couples to families of 6 or more. They are all shapes and sizes, ethnicities, personalities and so on. There is rarely a dull day at our pantry.
That is even more true now. A local grocery store chain, embattled in a family feud, has had managers walk of the job (and some have been fired subsequently) and workers protesting outside stores. Produce deliveries and stock shipments have either been delayed or haven't arrived at all in some locations. No one to stock the shelves or produce means that fruits and vegetables that have been cultivated for weeks, likely harvested by migrant workers, and trucked or flown to these locations are now rotting in the crates. CRATES full of produce going to waste- all over a family feud. (Now, I'm not part of the family and I'm not a native loyal customer so pardon me if it feels like I'm dismissing a family's clearly troubled relations. I don't discredit that its not a pleasant situation for anyone.)
Through divine intervention, I'm sure of it, local gardeners and other pantries have dropped off their unused abundance. We have huge zucchini, loads of summer squash, lettuce heads, kale leaves, and 4-5 bunches of both radishes and turnips. We already had the very last of our dwindling supply of tomatoes and potatoes out so we ended up with a nice assortment.
We, as a society, have let so much get in between us and our food. Our clients rely on our pantry to supplement their groceries and we can't provide our best service to them because of a third party. How many more family feuds will result in crates of produce wasted? How many miles do peppers have to fly just so we can have bell peppers whenever we want, whether they're in season or not? When we start to become so dependent on our broken food system we put ourselves in a sticky situation.
Instead of flying bell peppers in from Holland (I checked the stickers on the peppers at one of the local grocery chains), maybe we eat seasonally. (Holland- they are flown in from Holland!) Instead of relying on grocery store chains, maybe we can have little backyard gardens that supply a small portion of our weekly produce. The food system, that has become so distant to Americans, would seem a lot more humble and personal.
Let us, as a spiritual discipline, begin to take back our food system and make it personal again.
I found out today that I have had a fractured foot for the past four years. I broke it in a car accident that I don’t really like to talk about, and my foot has hurt ever since.
I can walk, I can run, I can ride a bike, I can hike, I can eat a burrito while standing on one foot, but it hurts all the time.
The healing process was complicated because this break is easily missed, and so I walked around for three weeks before anyone told me it was broken. Then they said it would ...
One thing I have learned in my year in the Boston Young Adult Volunteer program is that food is a great equalizer.
Interview with Rev. Karen Hagen, pastor of Tippecanoe Presbyterian Church in Milwaukee, Wisconsin about their new Rooftop Garden
You've had a community garden going for a few years now, but tell us about this new initiative.
Our Rooftop Garden has been completed and is growing with harvest coming. Education around the gardens has included the Webinar, local newspaper, garden blessing, and upcoming canning and food use in Divine Intervention’s food programing. We are participating in our synod’s just.good.food program as well.
How did you do it?
Approximately 14 volunteers worked on the Rooftop Garden installation, approximately 20 are working in our other gardens and maintain Rooftop Garden. Primary responsibility for garden care falls upon our Garden Keepers who are homeless and formerly homeless Guests of our Divine Intervention Ministry. Already we have approximately 100 lbs. of organic produce given away. We have developed relationships with 4 funders, 2 restaurants interested in produce grown locally, and 1 local greenhouse that will help us look forward to next enhancements.
Anything surprising happen?
More volunteers than anticipated and a deepening relationship with our neighborhood! One of the unexpected challenges came in relying on one of our partners to coordinate different aspects of the installation of Rooftop Garden. As we move to next aspects of our gardens, we will be proactive in taking on this role ourselves.
Do you have any recommendations for others that may want to try something similar?
Partnerships are key not only in accomplishing but maintaining the gardens. Continually inviting new people to become involved is important to maintain support as key volunteers may need to limit or change their volunteerism with project. Think forward!
Has this project changed your church or community in any way?
Yes! It has allowed us to see what is possible as we stay faithful to our vision and think and partner creatively. And, quite unexpectedly, new attention from the greater community is coming toward Tippecanoe in support and visitors to worship.
Here is the newspaper article about the initiative:
Tell us about the project?
We were able to successfully install two rain barrels off the side of Immanuel Presbyterian Church (Indianapolis) that connects to an underground piping system. This piping system exits the ground inside the garden. Soaker hoses can be attached to the exit to water the garden or volunteers can put a watering can underneath the faucet. There is also a stand-alone rain barrel inside the garden. A watering can be filled by lifting the lid to the rain barrel & then dispersed in the garden. This will cut down the cost of maintaining the garden & make it easier for volunteers to water the garden.
Who was involved?
We had five adults and three kids participate in building the rain barrel system. We had seven kids & two adults plant the vegetables in the garden. Since installing, we have had 7 families volunteer to help care for the garden this summer as well as our church's Boy Scout troop.
We spent about 5 weekends working on rain barrels instead of the planned 1-2 weekends. We had great difficulty gathering volunteers at the same time to complete a project of this size.
Challenging? Anything you'd do differently next time?
Installing the rain barrels next to the side of the building posed a challenge. A hill goes off that side of the building (which is what you need for the underground piping) and it took two times setting the rain barrels in order for them to not slant. The difficulty in getting volunteers for this project was also a challenge. We will not attempt a construction project this large any year in the near future. If a large project needs to be done again, we will break it up over many months into smaller much more manageable sections in order to get more volunteer participation.
What would you would encourage others to do if they try to replicate something similar in their area?
Do your research in how to install rain barrels properly. This project is not a cheap expense. Our grant money provided $300 of this project this year. Last year we raised $100 that was used in this installation. In addition, the family that oversees this project donated an additional $300 in order to make this project fully operational. So you will need much more than $300 to complete a project of this size. In addition, consider creating a committee of people in charge of completing an outdoor project of this scale, break the project up in small sections and designate individuals to oversee that portion of the project. Plan the project throughout the winter & have the individuals price out the parts needed per section to better estimate costs. Then, accomplish each section slowly throughout the entire length of spring, summer, & fall. Therefore, it will be fully complete in a year's time. We would also would recommend finding somewhere that the produce can be donated fresh instead of preserved. It is much less work and much easier to get volunteers.
Has this experience changed your church and community in any way?
We are in the interim search process for a new pastor and this project was one of the experiences we have shared that demonstrates some of the success and challenges of undertaking something of this size during a time of transition. It also is helping us continue to grow in our relationship with people who are under-resourced with access to fresh produce and the programs/churches helping them with on-site assistance.
Our congregation has been blessed with a young adult couple (Kelly and Brad Shinabargar) who are passionate about growing healthy food and helping our congregation’s children learn how to garden. They also have a passion for helping people who are under-resourced and the growth of this garden over the course of three growing seasons has been tremendous thanks to their determination, creativity, energy and imagination. We could not have accomplished this project without them and are grateful to God for their commitment to the Youth Garden!