Hosting a community garden on church property can be an amazing experience for a congregation and can bring new life into the members, while connecting the church to the neighborhood in an entirely new way. Additionally, The United Methodist Church has adopted social principles around food justice (BOR p. 48) that encourage us to increase access to quality food for those with the fewest resources. Small-scale agriculture opportunities are affirmed in the social principles as opportunities for communities to feed themselves.
However, church community gardens tend to fail when the church does things in this order:
- builds the garden
- decides all the governance policies
- invites the community to get involved
The community will never buy into the idea that it’s for them. They will always think it’s the church’s garden and not theirs, and the problem is that unless the church intends to pay for everything, do all the gardening, maintain all the plots, and keep the garden running, this is not a sustainable way to keep it going. In the end, several passionate people will be doing all the work. If they leave or get tired of doing all the labor, the garden ministry will end.
This is the opposite of how a community garden is supposed to work. Instead, the church needs to connect with community groups from the very beginning to ensure the garden is constructed and governed in a way that the result is something the community actually wants. Instead of the church “owning” the garden, the church’s attitude needs to be one of merely “hosting” the site. This can rub the church’s trustees the wrong way if they are of a mind to control every last detail of the church’s property. If your trustees are going to battle and fight you every step of the way, you might want to see if the land can be found at another location. The trustee fight can kill a garden.
When involving the community, be sure to include master gardeners in your neighborhood, city government, civic groups such as garden clubs, Girl Scout and Boy Scout troops, and the neighbors. Angry neighbors can also cause problems if they think the garden is an eyesore or is attracting rodents. Be prepared to address these issues as a committee. After several organizing meetings, elect a garden manager (preferably not a church member) who will communicate and lead the garden members after construction.
Be sure to investigate grant opportunities to help pay for the expense of the garden construction. For those of you in Dallas, the city of Dallas has a grant for community gardens.
To learn what other churches in our Conference are doing, see our working list of existing and previous gardens located at United Methodist Churches. This list shows community partners, sizes, facilities, and the different types of gardens.
For additional resources, questions or comments about community gardening or our working list, please contact:
Rev. Marji Hill, Associate Director
Center for Missional Outreach