The “Sharing” Garden at Eastminster
Written by Marsha MacKinnon, Webmaster for the Presbytery of Lake Erie
On a hot and humid August Sunday afternoon members of Eastminster Presbyterian Church of Erie and residents from the neighborhood gathered to celebrate the success of a revitalized community garden.
Dedicated as the “Sharing Garden,” Eastminister received a $2,000 grant from the Presbytery of Lake Erie to upgrade the soil, erect a fence, construct raised beds and provide vegetable plant seeds. The garden began some years ago and the produce was donated to the Second Harvest Food Bank. Yet over the years the soil depleted and needed restoring. Overtime and with new neighbors; a new vision of what the garden could become evolved and along with it a new mission.
More than seven years ago, refugees from Bhutan entered Nepal and eventually arrived in Erie. Several of these families live near the church. Since then these refugee families have settled into life in America, but they miss their deep-seated connection to the land. As farmers in their native Bhutan, they missed the opportunity to not only work the soil to produce vegetables for their tables but their fulfill calling to till the soil.
Many of these families live at the ErieHousing Authority facilities off East Lake Road. The Housing Authority has a policy that residents are only allowed to “garden” a patch of soil three feet by one foot. That isn’t enough space to plant a productive vegetable garden. As neighbors got to know neighbors, members of the Eastminster church expanded its outreach to this community of new comers and today a highly productive vegetable garden is growing beautifully. Today fresh produce is not all that is growing on this plot of land.
Chaya, Bishnu and Talashi (pictured left to right) are among the gardeners who care for the various raised beds in the “Sharing Garden.” Church members discovered it was better for all concerned if each family who wanted to participate, was assigned a raised bed. So, a lottery was held to assign the beds. The sweat equity the families put into the garden allows them to benefit from the harvest. There are also some general community raised beds. Henry Johnston, a member of Eastminster Presbyterian, recruited his mother – Bonnie Rafferty, who is a Master Gardener, to help the church revitalize this garden. In addition to the raised beds, vegetable seeds, and fencing the garden area; mushroom mulch replaced the depleted soil. At first the gardeners weren’t convinced this was the best idea for growing vegetables. But as the seeds grew into strong and productive plants, they became believers.
Between these hard-working neighbors, assistance and guidance from church members and funding from the Presbytery of Lake Erie, this partnership has produced a bountiful garden that includes potatoes, a variety of tomatoes, sweet and hot peppers, beans, corn, eggplant, zucchini and squash. One of the prized crops in this garden are the assortment of peppers as some are from their native Bhutan. These specialty items are not available at local grocery stores.
The photos tell the story. During the extreme drought this summer in our region, these refugees have tended the garden daily; watering, weeding, fertilizing and caring for each plant. The benefits are numerous. The fresh produce from the “Sharing Garden” helps feed these refugee families and others and provides an opportunity for them to contribute. This section of east Erie is a grocery desert. The nearest grocery store is miles away. So, the produce from this garden becomes even more important by assisting these neighbors in putting food on the table. The “Sharing Garden” is also serving as an example of learning to share with others. The Eastminster church property needed landscaping assistance to clear a back section of the property that had become wildly overgrown. Many of the church members at Eastminster are past the age of being able to do such labor. The Bhutanese neighbors came over and got to work, clearly the back of area of the property and making it manageable again. The Bhutanese gardeners shared their skills with their church neighbors.
When asked about why she likes working in the garden, Bishnu said “ (the garden) makes me happy.” Perhaps this is the ultimate prize that this garden grows. It’s not only about sharing our bounty with others, but also by working together we are building community, broadening our experiences, and to “love thy neighbor,” the ultimate command for all Christians. This is what is growing in the “Sharing Garden” at Eastminster.