Making sense of dirt and other things that Community Garden Planning
by J.P. Smith
He, who plants a tree, -
He plants love,
Tents of coolness spreading out above
Wayfarers he may not live to see.
Gifts that grow are best;
Hands that bless are blest;
Plant! Life does the rest!
Heaven and earth help him who plants a tree.
And his work its own reward shall be.
If you were asked, “Why would you start a community garden in your area?” How
would you respond? Someone did ask us that direct question: “Why might our
church plant a community garden?” Indeed, why should we? It enticed me well
enough in thought and word. St. Paul’s Presbyterian Church with its rare 9-acre
green space and deep well in the city of Orlando sat as though predestined for such a
question at such a time.
It’s as though destiny brought together this unique opportunity and a willing group
of people yearning to toil in the soil. Why plant a garden? Because “we worship
a garden-planting God.” Because we want to engage the individuals surrounding
this space by planting roots literally and metaphorically. There is a diverse range
of people in our community who would be blessed by the food produced from
a community garden. We all feel it, a craving for things that are tangible like the
produce from seeds we put in the ground with our own hands. There’s a longing for
relationships that are more than “Hi, how are you? I’m fine.” We desire something
directly agrarian – a garden, which we can cultivate, nurture, and hopefully harvest
successfully to share in communal fellowship.
The motley crew on the planning committee was assembled: Elisa with previous
community garden experience; Darcee who tends her own home garden; Jason
the irrigation specialist; Roger and Beth our community outreach team, with Beth
having master gardener training; Stefan, our committee secretary; me – a writer
who kills house plants; and Justin, a man who asks acute questions. All of us aligned
in our minds, hearts, and the work of our hands.
Perhaps you’ve never known a group of city dwellers to so enthusiastically
organize and educate themselves about garden funding and grants as well as
location for the garden, which included analyzing soil and where the best sunlight
is received, seasons and seeds to plant, type of bed and garden materials, picnic
tables, irrigation and garden layout, etc. It’s all about the intent of the heart, isn’t it?
Certainly, our intent is to honor God, our friends and neighbors by being thorough
We reached out to our community neighbors by walking door to door, handing
out flyers and engaging them in conversation. We also held another forum for
our neighbors to discuss how the surrounding subdivisions would benefit from a
community garden. Six neighbors attended, two of which had backyard gardens
while another had volunteered at a local public school garden. Feedback from the
forum and speaking to neighbors face-to-face led us to designate the garden as
a “community giving garden.” Again, hearts aligned in a longing to give from the
fruits of our labors while tending the earth.
Thus our Mission Statement:
St. Paul’s Community Garden exists to promote community development
through the cooperative cultivation of a neighborhood park and gardens
which recreational space and vegetable products to be generously shared
with our neighbors and local food banks.
Two other community involvement aspects we are developing are 1) in
collaboration with OCA (aka non-profit Orange County Athletics, exists to provide
opportunity, build community, maximize ability for individuals with Autism and
other disabilities), which will also be involved through their Adult Vocational
training program to help maintain the garden by pulling weeds and watering 2-3
times a week. 2) A children’s after school program on Wednesday afternoons that
would include an educational lesson and garden care, such as composting, pulling
weeds, and watering plants.
There’s still much to do before the fall planting season. We have yet to build our
beds, and then of course, fill them with soil, hold a community workday, lay the
irrigation, and kick off our major fundraiser. I think I can say that we’re all looking
forward to being on our knees and digging our hands into the soil to feel the gritty
granules between our finger pads while in communion with neighbors, friends, and
creation. Then to plant! And let Life do the rest!
Abundant thanks to our gracious Donors:
Home and Commercial on Fairbanks donated irrigation supplies.
Home Depot on Lee Road donated bed materials.
Noble Fence of Orlando contributed labor and garden fence at cost.