Saturday, August 02, 2014

community building through community gardens

A few Sunday’s ago I raced into a cafe, seeking a takeaway coffee. It was packed, heaving with people, buzzing with conversation. I felt enfolded by the possibility of human relationships.

Being Sunday morning, I couldn’t help reflecting on how warm, human, relational and busy this place was, compared to many churches around Australia gathering at exactly the same time.

But as I left I reflected on how narrow was this expression of community. It was a community of like minds. I was a stranger visiting this city. If I’d wanted relationship, I could never have found it by pulling up a chair at any of these tables. This was invite only, a chance to catchup with existing relationships, with already established relationships. It was building community, but only with the known and liked.

In contrast, here is a comment on the community building that can occur in community gardens.

“Coffee shops are touted as our cultural commons, but very few people in coffee shops actually interact with strangers … A communal food garden is really one of the few places in our society where you can go and meet someone outside your ethnic or class boundary.” (Fred Bahnson, Soil and Sacrament: A Spiritual Memoir of Food and Faith, 247).

Bahnson goes on to describe how you build such a community. It includes having no fence. “If someone takes your broccoli or watermelons, let them … Leave the work of growing food to those who maintain a porous sense of edges and ownership.” (Soil and Sacrament, 252). He also suggests that when it comes to choosing people to invite to your community garden, the garden you are creating “is first of all for the widow who comes to the door in her negligee, the migrant worker who works three jobs and comes to the garden to unwind.” (Soil and Sacrament, 253)

This is all helpful food for thought in terms of my paper for the Urban Life Together conference in Melbourne (which BTW, Tallskinnykiwi AKA Andrew Jones) considers “fantastic.”)

Presentation two – Gardening with Soul

This presentation will explore two movies to suggest insights for urban mission. Gardening with Soul (2013) tells the story of New Zealander Gardener of the Year, Loyola Galvin, honoured for her work in turning the lawn of Our Ladies of Compassion, Wellington, into Common Ground, a community garden for local apartment dwellers. Grow your Own (2007) explores the impact of Asian migrants on a well-established British allotment.

Together, these movies offer insights into urban mission, including the priority of place, soil as sacrament and the stranger’s gift. These insights will be tested against the reality of inner-city Australian community gardens in central Adelaide and Kings Cross, Sydney.

Posted by steve at 01:50 PM


  1. Hi Steve


    Comment by Jenny B — August 2, 2014 @ 10:27 pm

  2. Great link. Thanks Jenny. Such a lush backdrop. What surprises me is that most of the group look Anglo, but I had assumed Darwin was much more culturally diverse.


    Comment by steve — August 3, 2014 @ 12:42 pm

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