St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Church photo
A parish garden in Aloha feeds neighbors and builds community.
St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Church photo
A parish garden in Aloha feeds neighbors and builds community.
It starts with the seed of an idea. Tended and nurtured this idea grows into action, with members of a parish community coming together to create a gathering space that provides food, fresh air and community.

Many parishes throughout the Archdiocese of Portland build and maintain community gardens on their land, or have partnered with another congregation or organization to fill unused space with plants and people.

“Our garden is awesome,” said Sally Perry, of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Church in Aloha.

Members of Perry’s parish created an official garden ministry to develop policies and goals, and provide leadership and ideas for development and maintenance, for their parish garden. Many of the gardeners live in nearby apartments, so the space provides an opportunity for them to grow fresh produce for themselves and for the parish’s St. Vincent de Paul ministry.  

“[The parish] also feels that participants will benefit from the exercise and fresh air they will get from working on their garden plots,” Perry said.

Further south, in Cornelius, St. Alexander Church has provided a large portion of land to be used as a community garden. Alejandro Tecum, director of the organic agriculture project at Adelante Mujeres, manages the garden, which helps provide a source of food for low-income families in the parish. Many of the people who have adopted beds moved to Oregon from the countryside in Mexico.

“They love to work the soil because they were doing that since they were children,” Tecum said to the Catholic Sentinel in 2009.

The St. Alexander garden’s start-up several years ago involved very little overhead. To prepare the soil, Tecum tilled the ground, then mulched leaves and grass clippings in the beds, all organic material from church grounds. One parishioner owns horses and donates manure to fertilize the soil. The water comes from a parish well, and Tecum modified some used hoses for a few dollars to create a drip irrigation system. Gardeners adopt a plot for $30 a year or five hours of service at the parish.

Ecumenical Ministries of Oregon coordinates workshops for congregations to share successes and challenges to the gardening projects, as well as tips for building partnerships and ensuring long-term sustainability.

Jenny Holmes, project director of the organization’s Interfaith Food and Farms Partnership, suggested parishes start by gauging the level of support among its community members and then start seeking out partnerships for the project.

There are often Boy or Girl Scout Troops or other groups with service requirements to fulfill. Then, she says, find the master gardeners in the parish. They will be the ones who will offer advice to make sure the first planting season doesn’t flop.

Grants to help fund the projects are often available through garden clubs or local soil and water conservation groups, and businesses are often willing to make in-kind donations of lumber or compost. A carpenter in the parish may offer his or her skills in building raised beds or storage sheds.

“The key is being resourceful,” Holmes said. “Look around at the resources that are right in front of you.”

Another benefit to these gardens is safer neighborhoods.

“Overall, community gardens tend to make neighborhoods safer because you have more people looking out for each other, more eyes on the street and that tends to deter criminal activity,” Holmes said.