Collaborative Garden Project
It doesn’t matter if that space looks like a row of empty pews, or a cavernous unused fellowship hall, or a broad expanse of parking lot. Churches want to use what they have, to see it filled up with people and bustling activity.
To me, this is a sign of God’s Spirit in our midst. When scarcity rules our hearts, we try to keep what belongs to us, and we worry we will not have enough to share. But God pushes us to use everything we have to serve our neighbors. So when a church feels dissatisfied about its unused resources, I think this is a prod from the Holy Spirit—as though God asks us, “What else can you do with my gifts? Who else can you serve?”
Since I’ve been at OSL, the congregation has sensed this prodding when we look at the seemingly wasted space in our south parking lot.
We used to have a garden there to serve our neighbors from our Spanish-speaking partner congregation Pueblo de Dios. But this garden never achieved sustainability; because many of the congregants in this congregation already work more than one job, gardening is simply not possible.
We toyed with the idea of using the property for Hezekiah House, our affordable housing partnership with The Community Outreach. But that program took a different direction when our organizations agreed to use the houses we owned instead.
Without any satisfying answers, the south lot remained a tiny thorn in our side: irritating, pinching, and basically impossible to dislodge.
Then God started to use that dissatisfaction.
Two years ago, when we were heavily engaged in our conversations around racial justice here at OSL, I talked with my friend Pr. Michelle Lewis, who had begun the Peace Garden Project, a community garden that uses gardening as a way to bridge the members of her racially diverse community. I mentioned that we had this massive south lot where we used to have a garden. I asked her what she would do with the asphalt that covered a portion of it.
“I wouldn’t do anything. I’d just plant raised beds.”
Around the same time, members from our church attended the World Hunger Leadership Gathering, the same think-tank that led to the formation of our Campus Cupboard. We heard about community gardens other churches had started—including at one church that used a huge section of their huge parking lot for garden space.
Then, while those ideas germinated, out of the blue a neighborhood resident approached me with an idea. Could we use some part of our property—say, that south lot—in partnership with the garden at Augustana University? Could we partner to fight hunger?
Some initial meetings with the leadership at the Augie garden, community members, synod staff members, and OSL teammates led to the seed for an intriguing partnership with big goals:
• To partner with area churches (including OSL) to plant gardens.
• To use the produce from these gardens to support local women- and minority-owned restaurateurs—especially new businesses struggling to achieve lift-off.
• To invite these restaurateurs to cater “diversity dinners” at our churches where they could tell the stories of their culture, their personal histories, and their food.
• To use whatever produce was left to fight hunger insecurity in our own churches.
We tested some of this last year when the Augustana garden brought fall harvest produce to OSL. We cooked with it in our kitchen to support our Kids Eat Free program here at OSL, where every child 18 and under can eat one of our fresh meals without cost. And we gave away hundreds of pounds of produce.
This year, as food costs soar, the garden collaborative has gained momentum. Augustana has recruited students to help share the vision and recruit churches to use their gardens for these purposes. We haven’t yet built our raised beds at OSL, but we hope to do this for the next growing season. Between now and then we will host the first Diversity Dinner, and we will continue to cook with and serve fresh veggies from our collaborative gardens.
You can help, too. If you have a garden, contact the Church Office (605-336-2942) for a list of vegetables you can grow. We will connect you to the Augustana Garden Collaborative, and they will help distribute your produce to one of our partners.
As this vision has grown, the south lot at OSL remains vacant.
But now we have a vision for its future.
—Pr. Justin Kosec
Photos (from top): Crated vegetables, Zoe Schaeffer; tomatoes, Lewis Wilson; raised garden bed, Jonathan Hanna, all via Unsplash.