Growing to Give: A Forum for Gardeners

Growing to Give: A Forum for Gardeners

by The Rev. Mark Genszler
Saturday, April 21, 2018

Dozens of people joined together at the Garden at St Francis (St Francis Episcopal Church) in North Bellmore on Earth Day weekend for a Grow-to-Give forum. "The word 'intersectional' comes to mind," said the Rev. Mark Genszler, rector at St Francis. Many participants and speakers were church folks interested in parish gardens and growing food to give away, but many others - participants and speakers alike - were friends and neighbors from various places on the island, Queens to Greenport, holding no particular religious affiliation. Common themes emerged: justice for our neighbors and for our ecosystems; responsibility to the 'least' among us and our fellow creatures - particularly that most vulnerable creature, the Earth; and working with the uplifting healing action present in reorienting our food systems toward sustainable practices.

Genszler said, "We learned more about compost - from Cornell Cooperative Extension experts - and soil - from a soil scientist and ecologist, Dr Roxane Zimmer - but the soil-heads and the vegetable-people also made connections with Jim Adams and Adam Mick of Lawn Island Farms/The Wild Republic, whose vision it is to 'liberate the lawns of Long Island' from our phosphate-polluting-monoculture ways and let them be the places of health and food-production they once were and perhaps long to be. Everyone heard inspiring stories from a local high school science teacher who has begun a garden to teach her students but also integrates the garden with her school's new community food pantry that operates on a CSA model. We heard from food pantries and community meals and their excellent work, but we also were charged and inspired by the radical simplicity in the speaker from Community Solidarity - formerly Food Not Bombs - who framed all our work in garden and pantry and meals in the context of our culture's wasteful excess, and the possibility of healing that begins to come when we first acknowledge this waste in all its forms... and then collect and redistribute necessary discarded things to those who scandalously go without in the land of more-than-enough. And, we had a great lunch together!"

The day held still more: beekeeping, walks around the Garden at St Francis and its labyrinth, and hearing from local backyard gardeners inspired to designate portions of their gardens as 'grow-to-give-away'. Brian Sellers Petersen gave a plenary session talk to start the day, describing projects of hope and ecological and social healing around the world, helping us situate our collective work in the ecologies of North America and the planet as a whole. He also signed copies of his new book, 'Harvesting Abundance,' which is a compendium of stories about places and projects just like the Garden at St Francis and our collaborators and friends on Long Island.

The gardeners and the activists, the priests and the scientists, the city dwellers- and the country-folk: all sat and discerned together a multi-voiced vision of common work. Whether an urban church courtyard or roof, a field on the North Fork, or a suburban lawn: everyone can grow food in sustainable, healthy ways, and integrate this food into a local food supply. As Wendell Berry writes, "What we need is here."

The Garden at St Francis looks to host more gatherings, focused on different aspects of this 'intersectional' community. Every church in the diocese of Long Island could be - in its own way, particular to its place - an intersection of health and renewal for all the local creatures in each habitat, working with other churches, but also with local schools and partners, and anyone with space for a container to grow something. As the General Thanksgiving says: Let us proclaim this saving health 'not only with our lips but also with our lives.'

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