Small Church Garden, Big Neighborhood Impact

Going green can mean big changes, or small ones, says Rev. Marian Lucas-Jefferies, coordinator of the Environmental Network of the Anglican Diocese of Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island.

A community garden at St. John’s Anglican Church in North Sydney is an example of a relatively simple project that has a wide impact in the neighbourhood, she said.

It began when the congregation was left with a vacant lot after tearing down the parish hall, said church member Paula Evans-Bragg, who worked on the project with parishioners Debbie Strickland and Betty Mansfield .

Initially they planned a community green space – a park with walking paths. They discovered the church wasn’t eligible for government grants, and they were daunted by the red tape regarding liability. A community garden, however, presented fewer problems.

Meanwhile, in Advent, 2012, St John’s began working with a community policing station at a public housing complex in the church’s neighbourhood; supplying winter jackets, hats and mittens to residents. When church members discovered that children using a police drop-in centre were short of food, it seemed a natural fit to involve them in the garden that spring.

Donations followed, of topsoil and gravel as well as raised wooden garden boxes. Youths from the housing complex helped shovel, plant and tend the garden.

“Every single day that summer those kids, four to 12-year-olds, came to water the gardens,” Evans-Bragg said. “It grew like crazy.”

So when October came, the church and the children harvested the vegetables, cooked a big dinner, and invited the community.

“Without this garden, these kids wouldn’t have known how to plant anything, ever,” Evans Bragg said.

The garden expanded in 2014, and the children from the housing development brought their friends to help. Both the garden and the young people grew and developed, Evans Bragg said.

“We remediated the earth. We produced food from a vacant lot. We improved the carbon dioxide cycle. We fed people. We gave the community a place to congregate and grow food. The kids learned useful new skills and the value of the environment. They got involved in the parish. They now volunteer in the community, like caroling at Christmas and baking cookies for shut-ins. They are good kids and feel a deep attachment for the neighbourhood,” she said. “All that from a patch of ground.”

“It makes sense for people of faith to work to save the planet God gave us,” said Emma Norton, an energy efficiency coordinator at the Ecology Action Centre in Halifax and a member of the congregation at Kings College Chapel.

She credits her faith and study of the Bible with making her aware of the need for social justice, which includes addressing climate change. She was particularly drawn to work with environmental issues after seeing first-hand how climate change impacted living conditions in the Darfur region of the Sudan, Africa. Climate change and new weather patterns raised tensions in the region, which led to genocide.

“I realized then that climate change is a social issue, not just an environmental issue,” Norton said. “It negatively affects sustainability and development. The worst affected will be in poverty, which leads to increased poverty, especially where people are unable to adapt.”

Norton said she’d like to see more faith communities reach out to youth and activist organizations and get involved in environmental and other issues.

“It’s the church responsibility to work with others for change,” she said.

Written by Monica Graham,

March 30, 2015, NORTH SYDNEY, NS