How to Start (or Revive) a Faith-Based Garden

7 steps to starting a faith-based garden

By SHARE

"For I was hungry and you gave me food." No, I'm not talking about those chocolate chip cookies in the company break room, although they certainly taste divine when you need them most (Monday afternoons, around 3 p.m., come to mind). I'm talking about the growing movement to create gardens for those in need at places of worship.

These gardens aren't only used to provide physical nourishment. It's important to remember the many ways that people today are hungry—they are hungry for human connections, for knowledge that has skipped generations, for communing with nature, and for feeling needed. Many, perhaps even you, are hungry to de-stress after a long week at work, and they find solace and satisfaction in creating something tangible and good like a faith-based garden. I've heard it said that planting a seed is the ultimate act of faith. With so many unknowns in today's business economy, why not take this leap of faith and dig in where you worship? Here's how:

• Meet with the church/temple/mosque leaders. Find out if there has been an effort to start a vegetable or herb garden. Some of the legwork may already be done for you, such as determining the best site for the garden and how water would be accessed. You might inquire whether there is refrigeration for storing fresh food, if there are existing tools or a shed, and what challenges the garden faced that prevented it from happening or continuing. This is also a good time to ask permission to move forward or try again.

• Look at best practices in your area. This gardening thing isn't new—it has been surging for the last few years, at least, and chances are there are some terrific examples of school, community, and faith-based gardens already in your area. Take an impromptu tour of these gardens so you can get ideas, find out about local vendors and organizations that may be able to help, identify common barriers and challenges, and take lots of pictures to share what you've learned.

• Build a team. Put the word out via social media and the church bulletin. Identify the skills you need—people with gardening knowledge are helpful, but so are those who like to build or who can tap into local resources for supplies and funds. Plus, you can find support from those who are willing to learn and love to help. Someone with a pickup truck is pretty handy, too!

• Develop a plan. This doesn't need to be a professionally-created blueprint (although, if you can afford it, you'll certainly reap the benefits of professional design input). Just sketch out what seems to make sense, based on the knowledge you've gathered, the expertise of your team, and the realities of your chosen location. For example, if you have deer in the area, you most likely will want a fence. Start small and grow from there. Five beds (4 feet wide, 8 feet long), planted intensively, can produce a great deal of food and take up very little room.

• Secure funds, line up the needed supplies, and do the build-out. That soreness you feel after a week of hauling wheelbarrows full of dirt is a good thing. But remember that many hands make light work. Know your limits, ask for help when needed, and always keep tool tines facing down!

• Decide what you are going to do with the food you grow. Are you going to use it at your place of worship for spiritual lessons about "our daily bread" or repairing the world? Are you going to donate it to a nearby food pantry or let those in need harvest for themselves? Nail down the details about harvest teams, storage, and delivery of fresh food so you can honor your bounty in a timely manner.

• Plant, water, tend, harvest, and watch your community grow. You'll most likely learn quickly about praying for rain!

After immersing yourself in creating a faith-based garden, you may even find yourself craving a salad of fresh greens or some crunchy radishes rather than cookies at break time at work! Tap in next week when I share with you how to overcome common garden problems.

Hungry for more? Write to eatandrun@usnews.com with your questions, concerns, and feedback.

Daron Joffe is a 30-something eco-entrepreneur who lives to make a difference in the world one homegrown organic fruit and vegetable at a time. Known as "Farmer D," Joffe has grown food for celebrities, private communities, and elementary schools in his "town-by-town mission to re-energize the food culture." His products are sold at select Whole Foods and Williams-Sonoma stores. Born in South Africa and based in Atlanta, Farmer D is online at www.farmerD.com.