For the third year in a row, volunteers from Catholic St. Thomas More Newman Center and Jewish Congregation Beth Shalom (CBS) are planting, weeding and hoeing tough clay soil beneath relentless Mid-western heat, together. But they don’t really consider it “work”. It’s more a labor of love with a two-fold benefit: getting to know one another better and also reaping what they sow. For the low income families in the Columbia Missouri area who will receive the the fruits of their labor – the efforts of these two faiths are truly a Godsend.
The St Thomas More and CBS garden partnership began in the spring of 2009 under the umbrella of the Interfaith Care for Creation (IFCC), a sprout of the Columbia Climate Change Coalition (CCCC). There are actually four such interfaith gardens in Columbia: Broadway Christian Church, Rock Bridge Christian Church, Sacred Heart Church, and the CBS/St Thomas More one.
According to the CCCC website, the Columbia IFCC is “an emerging group, rooted in gratitude for the earth that has been lent to us. We call on all faith communities, in their diversity and commonality, to accept the sacred responsibility to protect the planet.”
IFCC’s Garden Project provides an opportunity for people from different spiritual communities to work together to grow vegetables and fruits for their own low-income members and for distribution to area food banks and pantries to help feed those in need.
Lily Chan, St. Thomas More parishioner and active member of the garden group says their shared garden with CBS is truly an organic experience, free of chemical additives, which is extremely important to her personally.
“I do not want to pollute the earth by using chemicals that will contaminate our water supply and insecticides that will also kill the beneficial ones,” Chan says. “I personally know some people who are disabled due to their compromised immune system. They have to eat organic food to survive, and yet they can’t afford to buy them. I hope that our veggies will help sustain them.”
Reducing waste and reusing materials is also vital to this garden group. Although both faith communities chip in with a small stipend to purchase plants every year, recycled materials are preferred for construction and upkeep whenever possible.
To discourage weeds, for instance, cardboard covered with hay is laid between plant rows.
Large sticks take the place of store bought wooden, metal or plastic row markers. To refrain from buying equipment that might only be used during the growing season, volunteers bring their own hoes, spades and rakes from home.
Though taking care of the earth is a primary objective of these interfaith gardens, the abundant yields for low income families has been a huge success. According to the IFFC website, in 2009 alone, the St. Thomas More/CBS garden “yielded over 550 pounds of fresh, organically grown produce which was donated to the area food bank.” The Rock Bridge Christian church has similar results that same year.
The group hopes to top these numbers with this year’s crop which includes: tomatoes, green peppers, egg plants, squash, cucumbers, okra, potatoes and all kinds of herbs.
Future plans for this interfaith group? According to Chan, the next step is to build a compost bin. They have already collected sections from a discarded wooden fence for the walls. If they can build and begin adding food stuffs this year, they hope to have an abundance of organic-rich compost to mix into the soil next spring.
Chan would also like to replace the “gate” into the garden, which at this point is only a pulled back portion of chicken wire. They welcome donations!
For Chan, working for the benefit of others, providing those in need with more nutrient-rich foods motivates her. “This is what our Interfaith Garden is for – to help those who cannot help themselves,” she says.
But, along with helping the less fortunate, the idea of working with another faith community is what keeps her coming back. “I like the idea of people of different faiths working together to grow organic food to help those in need.”
For more information on Interfaith gardens in the Columbia Missouri area, check out the IFCC website.