The Common Good

God's Garden: Church-based Community Agriculture

Meet Stephen Bartlett, an urban gardener and educator in Louisville, Kentucky. His passion isn't just for squash, tomatoes, and corn -- it's for his Presbyterian church community and how it can grow, literally. And grow they do.

What started as a small garden named for a beloved member of the congregation who had passed away has become a thriving community garden where volunteers weed, mulch, plant, and harvest. Kids attend a garden day camp in the summer, and they proudly create salsa from the produce they tend and grow themselves. Bartlett teaches and hosts an online discussion forum for those who want to learn more about the spirituality of getting your hands dirty ("Soil is miraculous," he says. "The amount of thriving life and myriad interactions between the life in just one handful of soil is beyond the human capacity to understand."). And the garden provides food to nourish the hungry in the congregation and the community.

"The garden is a 'commons' and any hungry person can eat there without asking permission from anyone," Bartlett says. "The kids ask: 'But who owns the garden?' God is the owner, I reply. If you work here, every time you come you can eat. Even if you don't work here, but you are hungry, you can eat whatever you can find."

What would happen if every house of worship in the U.S. committed to growing food in some form, following Bartlett's model? What would happen if the environmental and social justice aspects of growing food -- not to mention community-building and personal spirituality -- literally took root at the very institutions that teach stewardship of the earth, responsibility for the poor, and love for thy neighbor? Many churches already are reaping the benefits, many more could be inspired to try. After all, the church has sparked movements before ...

Holly Lebowitz Rossi writes the blog Sparks in the Soil. For the full interview with Stephen Bartlett, click here.

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