Word&Way News Writer
Kids play barefoot while their parents stoop to pull weeds in 4’x4’ squares of raised gardening space. The gardening space is Victory Community Garden, the latest ministry of First Baptist Church, Springfield.
“There is something spiritual about digging in the dirt,” said Adam Stoddard as he checked the progress of an eggplant. “Perhaps because gardening is the first job God gave us.”
Adam, pastor of students and recreation, and his wife, Kristie, became interested in community gardening after reading Shane Claiborne’s “Irresistible Revolution,” which chronicles Claiborne’s life in an intentional, Christian community. The Stoddards began looking for ways their church could be more active in creating community, and a garden seemed like the perfect opportunity.
First Baptist, located in downtown Springfield, is surrounded by lower income, subsidized multi-housing units. “Many would like to have a vegetable garden to help fight the high prices of food and/or for recreation, but many are unable to do so in the context of their multi-housing situation,” Adam said.
Kristie began working on her Master Gardener certification, and the couple began researching organic, square-foot gardening.
Square-foot gardening, designed and popularized by gardener Mel Bartholomew, is a method of garden planning — in a square foot grid — that can help a garden yield several times the produce of a regular garden with less work.
The Victory Garden is divided into twenty 4’x4’ shares, available to community members for $12. The price includes the prepared gardening space, seeds, water and gardening instruction.
While partners in the garden are welcome to tend their shares at any time, the Stoddards encourage group gardening on Thursdays. This allows gardeners to get to know each other and share tips.
Research has shown that in areas with community gardens, crime goes down, Kristie said. Investors also view gardens as positive signs and are more likely to come to the area. “Gardens are a positive force in rehabilitating neighborhoods,” she said. “People start working together and develop a sense of pride and ownership in the neighborhood.”
The garden is also a non-threatening way to begin talking about spiritual matters. “We always close by asking, ‘How can we pray for you?’” Adam said. “We eventually want to start a discipleship group.”
He added that the garden helps the church “make sense” to the community around it. “The church can be here and invest in the community and show that it cares.”
“Our mission is fighting nutritional, relational and spiritual poverty,” Adam said. “So often, churches try to offer spiritual help before physical needs are met…. We are meeting physical needs — filling bellies.”
Adam hopes the church’s garden is the launching point for a church-based garden initiative in Springfield. “This is a valuable and critical area in which churches need to get involved,” he said. “Most churches have green space that could be used.”
He added that with all the donations received, the church spent around $500 preparing the garden area. Without donations, he estimates that the set- up would cost around $1,000. “Community gardening is such a good idea; it’s God-honoring and it helps people. It’s a love-love or a win-win scenario, as I see it,” Adam said.
This year, in addition to community shares, church volunteers are tending shares. Food grown in those shares will be donated to the Well of Life, a multi-church partnership to provide resources to those in Springfield’s west central area.