Last summer, 32 downtown Winnipeg kids learned how to cultivate the earth. They used creation-centred biblical principles set out at a day camp run by St. Margaret’s Anglican Church and A Rocha (The Rock)-a Christian conservation and environmental group founded in Portugal three decades ago by a husband-and-wife team of Anglican priests.
A Rocha Canada is based in coastal Surrey. B.C., and has a conservation site in the Pembina Valley, but its Winnipeg gardening mission, “Just Growing,” is rooted firmly on some of the needier streets of the city’s downtown core. “Our project here links people with food, community and creation,” says Jennifer Kornelsen, a community organizer with A Rocha Canada and one of Just Growing’s co-ordinators.
The pilot project, kicked off last year, invited local people to join staff on five local properties (two church-owned, two donated by neighbours) to grow fruits, vegetables and flowers. With four university students acting as chief gardeners and a neighbourhood resident riding shotgun as security guard, “local people were invited to share time and space and garden along with us during drop-in times on Tuesday, Wednesdays and Fridays,” says Kornelsen. Along with flowers to add curb appeal, attract human attention and lure pollinating insects, the garden produced a cornucopia of veggies, including tomatoes, broccoli, cauliflower, celery, onions and potatoes.
Every Friday, participants gathered in the church kitchen to cook up the plots’ excellent yields into hearty lunches of soups, veggie burgers and pastas smothered in pesto from the lavish basil crops. Free vegetables were on offer to participants and passersby. “Our security guard was given 40 pounds of potatoes, but since he had no cooking facilities in his rooming house, he donated them to the soup kitchen where he ate his meals,” says Kornelsen.
Discussions are under way to launch similar projects in other congregations, with the two A Rocha co-ordinators acting as resources. “We’ll partner this year with a couple of other churches in a small way and expand in 2012,” says Kornelsen. “We see ourselves as temporary resources that help build capacity in churches and then move on.”
As for the gardening camp, it was a big success, with the kids making jam and pizzas from the bounty and participating in a fall harvest festival. Some even showed an early aptitude for horticulture. “One six-year-old girl astonished her parents by identifying all the plants in the garden-even odd ones like tomatillos,” says Kornelsen. Ω