Tag Archives: church gardens

Church Gardens List Now Live!

Several readers advised me of church gardens I’d missed in last week’s column. Thanks to my sharp-eyed readers!  Those gardens missed are:

Trinity Lutheran Church – Palmer
First Christian Church (DOC) – Anchorage
Immanuel Presbyterian Church – Anchorage
Trinity Presbyterian Church – Anchorage
River of Life Lutheran Church – Chugiak

I’ve added a menu item on my website showing all church gardens I’m aware of, along with the names of identified coordinators. Take a peek. http://www.churchvisits.com/church-gardens/

Please help me keep this list up-to-date with corrections or additions.
Chris
churchvisits@gmail.com

The church gardening year is over with some astounding results

It’s been a great gardening season for local gardeners, if not without some challenges. A very late fall has stretched out the growing season almost a month longer than normal. Leaves have now fallen and the soil is quickly freezing, but not before some local church gardens managed to reap marvelous harvests benefiting those who depend on food pantries. My April 30 columnbriefly mentioned the new garden of Lutheran Church of Hope, constructed on church woodland and under the tutelage of member and master gardener Don Bladow.

Bladow, with the help of his wife, an ELCA hunger initiative grant and the support of a dedicated team of volunteers, has turned that land into a highly productive garden. All of the produce grown on it was transported directly to Lutheran Social Services of Alaska three times weekly, for distribution to scores of their clients. Approximately 20,000 square feet of land was cleared and rotivated, and about 8,400 square feet was planted with a wide variety of vegetables. Surprisingly, the site is very sandy, giving the soil good drainage and root penetration ability.

Don Bladow at the Lutheran Church of Hope’s garden (Courtesy Don Bladow)
Don Bladow at the Lutheran Church of Hope’s garden (Courtesy Don Bladow)

An avid woodworker, especially with regard to wood turning, Bladow converted as many of the birch trees as possible to bowls. Two hundred were sold at the church, raising funds to supplement the initial grant the church received for the project. He plans to make more bowls over the winter for sale in the spring at the church. Of various sizes, they’re light, both in color and weight, and a beauty to behold. It’s satisfying to hold one and realize you’ve become part of the project by your purchase. Bladow also made and donated 100 bowls to Bean’s Cafe’s annual Empty Bowl event. I consider his effort on the bowls alone as a concerted demonstration of putting one’s faith to work.

A lifelong Lutheran, Bladow says he got the idea for the garden project from the 2015 Alaska Lutheran Synod Assembly, which featured a hunger theme. He began thinking about ways to use the space behind the church. That year, he constructed and planted five elevated garden boxes but found they were not successful. After that, he immediately began clearing the lot.

Taking the University of Alaska Fairbanks’ online master gardener class, he also approached Julie Riley of the local Cooperative Extension Service for help. She offered him assistance with regard to clearing the land, testing the soil and amending the soil for best fertility.

With the help of  20 to 25 individuals — including church members, local master gardeners, the Turnagain Elementary PTO and friends of the church — he installed fencing, constructed a garden shed for equipment storage and planted the garden. Potatoes, carrots, cabbage, squash, cauliflower, broccoli, parsnips, kale, chard and three types of zucchini were planted in 2016.

“There is no way I could have done all that needed to be done without help from the congregation,” Bladow said. He gives much credit, especially for tending the garden, to his wife, Bonnie, who is also an active volunteer at the “Listening Post” program.

The results were astounding: 2,350 pounds of produce went to Lutheran Social Services of Alaska, and this was only their first year.

Bladow attributes Jesus’ words as the driving force behind his efforts: “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.”

He added, “If I can feed people the results of this garden, my life has been a success.”

“Don’s work, along with other volunteers’, was amazingly dedicated and faithful,” remarked Lutheran Church of Hope pastor Julia Seymour. “Each harvest brought a joyous ‘Glory to God’ response. The garden and those who committed to it are a true revelation of how prayer goes beyond words into the actions of our hands and feet. The garden helps LCOH love our neighbors in word and in deed.”

Unfortunately, many local church gardens start small and stay small, producing a small amount of food for pantries. Such smallness might indicate a lack of faith, of vision or of a spark plug like Don Bladow to get it done. What if more churches got very serious about planting the abundant unused acreage around their facilities, turning it into productive use for others?

“We’re so blessed to be able to provide fresh, locally grown produce to our clients who use our food pantry,” said Alan Budahl, Lutheran Social Services of Alaska’s executive director. “This produce helps us to supplement the produce we buy each week, in order to give our clients a better choice. We’re very excited about the growth in gardening in our faith-based community in Alaska.”

“Many people love rhubarb, so don’t throw it away but bring it in to us, leafy tops removed,” Budahl added “Our clients love it. Consider finding the video ‘Just Eat It,’ which is excellent in showing how much food is tossed away in America.”

Budahl said that LSSA is investigating putting a garden onsite at the pantry, and have a social work practicum student help them work through the various methods of growing in Alaska. (Budahl said he’s willing to help any faith-based organization get started, and mentioned that startup grants are also available to help. He can be reached at 272-0643.)

Another successful large first-year garden can be found at Christ Church Episcopal on O’Malley Road just east of the zoo. They actively planted more than 1,000 square feet on the rear half of their property this year, sending the produce weekly to St. Christopher’s Food Pantry in Muldoon. Christ Church’s Rev. Katherine Hunt indicated many parishioners also brought their excess produce such as rhubarb, crabapples, lettuce and squash to go to the pantry. They’re planning on doubling their planting area next spring. (Contact them at christchurchak@gmail.com.)

Don Bladow has also offered his help to other churches in getting started with their gardens. He may be contacted at dfbladow@gmail.com. He also maintains a useful blog of information and pictures. (Pictures of Lutheran Church of Hope’s “Harvest of Hope Memorial Garden” shared by Bladow may also be viewed on my website churchvisits.com.)

To the many other churches in the area that offer plots for community gardens, I offer hope and encouragement to continue. I strongly believe they help build community.

Now is the time for faith-based organizations to plan for their 2017 gardens.

Pictures of Lutheran Church of Hope’s “Harvest of Hope Memorial Garden”

This week’s column features Lutheran Church of Hope’s “Harvest of Hope Memorial Garden.” The following pictures graphically demonstrate the power of putting church land to use in just one year. My Alaska Dispatch News column can be viewed at adn.com/churchvisits, usually Friday evening. These pictures were submitted to churchvisits.com by the featured gardener/member, Don Bladow.

Front View of Garden

Front View of Garden Looking North

Backview of Garden Looking South w/Madow

Backview of Garden Looking South w/Madow

Friday Harvest in August

Friday Harvest in August

Peppers

Peppers

Harvested Peppers

Harvested Peppers

Potato's from one plant

Potato’s from one plant

Harvested cauliflower

Harvested cauliflower

Harvested broccoli

Harvested broccoli

Bowls Madow turned to support project

Bowls Madow turned to support project

 

Church gardens grow community: It’s time to start planting more assertively.

Last year, I wrote about local initiatives some churches have taken by planting church gardens or allowing church property to be used for community gardens. When I started writing that column, I pre-supposed those gardens would be used primarily for producing fresh food for Bean’s Café, Downtown Soup Kitchen and other community organizations that feed the hungry. And many church organizations do use them for that purpose.  What I didn’t realize was that a growing number of churches allow anyone to use a garden plot on their grounds regardless of where the food goes.

As I wrote that column, I was unaware of the garden at St. Anthony Catholic Church in Northeast Anchorage. It was created through parishioners’ conversations with neighbors. The neighborhoods around the church are heavily populated with immigrants, and many have garden plots at the church. These gardeners are allowed to use their assigned plots for growing produce to feed their families. Many of them also sell produce at various times throughout the season. What a wonderful use of church property. I visited the garden last fall during the AFACT celebration of Medicaid expansion. It’s beautifully tended, containing many vegetables not native to this area; often the gardeners are immigrants from Southeast Asia or the South Pacific.

Many churches have beautiful grounds, often park-like, even without many trees having access to sunlight for growing. This land might be utilized to grow food for food banks, church pantries, feeding programs and church suppers. Entire outreach programs could be constructed around such programs, even to the point of their being utilized year-round. There is much wisdom in Jewish medieval philosopher Maimonides’ saying, “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” Many recipients of community feeding services might have a greater appreciation of the gift of food if they understood, through participation, the work that goes into producing food.

In other areas around the Lower 48, churches are seeing the value of community gardens and implementing them. For a church community the size of Anchorage with over 375 houses of worship, there are few churches using their land as God’s gift. Conversely, clergy here frequently dwell on stewardship as a church member responsibility. Why don’t they apply the same stewardship rules and principles to church property?  I realize some church properties are too small, bounded by parking lots, contain too many trees, and meet in schools or mini-malls. But what about the rest? I know of churches adjacent to vacant lots that could be used to promote community gardening.

Practical Christianity is harder to do than theoretical Christianity. We attend church, listen to sermons, study the Bible and intellectualize what Christianity is all about. Matthew 25 shares Jesus’ words about practicing practical Christianity. “Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.” The chapter continues to detail the unfortunate fate of those who did not practice these virtues.

It’s been my observation that many Christians find it easier to contribute money to churches or go on short-term mission trips than to roll up their sleeves and create meaningful change in the community. Some churches do it better than most, but there is much room for improvement. Millions have been spent in Anchorage to invest in foreign missions in countries where Christianity is predominant, when Alaska is one of least Christian states in the U.S. The mission field is here!

St. Mary’s Episcopal Church is an example of what churches can do quickly. Starting last year, they planted seven gardens, with additional potato beds planted for F.I.S.H. They’re planning eight more big raised beds for their new Thomas Center for Senior Leadership later this year. Rector Michael Burke reports they have “lots of gardeners and visitors to the gardens and labyrinth.” Currently all produce grown is donated to organizations that feed the hungry.

Lutheran Church of Hope started small and late last year with five elevated boxes behind the church. Congregation member Don Bladow “has been the primary blood, sweat, tears, and prayer behind the garden,” says Pastor Julia Seymour. Don completed the University of Alaska Extension Program’s Master Gardener class in anticipation of a busy planting season. He plans to have 20,000 square feet under cultivation. Bladow says they’ll plant about one-third of that this year. He’s been raising money for the garden by turning wood bowls from trees that were on the property. All of the proceeds go into the project. Money is still being raised for specific gardening needs. This summer they’ll plant broccoli, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, kale, lettuce, parsnips, radishes and zucchini. All produce will be given to Lutheran Social Services of Alaska (LSSA). Any of our food pantries will say how welcome fresh grown food is to recipients. Don maintains a blog on this project at harvestofhopememorialgarden.blogspot.com. Our community needs many more like Don.

Local churches currently having or developing community food gardens include Lutheran Church of Hope, St. Anthony’s Catholic Church, Joy Lutheran Church – Eagle River, St. John United Methodist Church, Turnagain United Methodist Church, Chugiak United Methodist Church, St. Elizabeth Ann Seton School, Trinity Lutheran Church – Palmer, River of Life – Chugiak, and Central Lutheran Church.

Something our local church community might consider is what Methodists in Kalamazoo, Michigan are doing. They’ve created a “Summer Christian Camp” for a distressed neighborhood there. They focus on young adults 16-28. This 10-day ministry focuses on food and hunger and includes community gardening, 4-H community projects, ‘Free Store’ ministry, and Loves and Fishes food pantry. They train youth leaders, educators, pastors, and other passionate Christian adults.

Jesus often referred to food, hunger, feeding, planting, sowing and harvest themes in His ministry. I challenge other local ministries to emulate those lessons.