January 24, 2013

If You Grow It, They Will Taste It

Christine Grillo

Christine Grillo

Contributing Writer

Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future

Abbe Zuckerberg, Netivot Shalom

The good news is that the Baltimore Food & Faith Project garden grants program has been renewed for another year. The bad news? We’re talking about gardens. There’s no bad news.

You might ask, What’s a faith garden? At the close of 2012, I visited a couple of the gardens that were made possible by the grants, and I have some answers. A faith garden is what you might expect: a plot of land, a lot of mulch, some herbs, some tomatoes, a ton of squash. But it’s also food woven into tradition, a commitment to feeding those who are less fortunate, and a plan to help children connect with the Earth.

At Congregation Netivot Shalom, in Mt. Washington, Abbe Zuckerberg showed us her synagogue’s garden, which had yielded bok choy, broccoli, cauliflower, snap peas, tomatoes, zukes, cukes, basil and mint, all of it grown from seed. For pest control, the congregation used marigolds (and a fence to keep out the deer), and they kept a compost pile. They’d even created a “three sisters” garden, with Indian corn, beans, and melons. Earlier that fall, the congregation had used the Indian corn to make a sukkah, along with what seemed like an abundance of gourds, used for the harvest holiday Sukkot. The year before, they used gourds to make birdhouses.

Pastor Margaret, St. Luke's

“The whole point of this garden is to grow food to donate, to give away the extra,” said Zuckerberg. Aside from what they use during Kiddush, the blessing of the wine, and what’s tasted by the congregation during the reception, the crops are donated to Ahavas Ysrael, a kosher food pantry. But the garden benefits the congregation in other ways, too.  “In a faith organization, there’s so much to argue about,” said Zuckerberg. “This garden is one of the most positive things we’re doing, and everyone loves it.” The kids ask questions, she says, and everyone who participates in growing the garden learns new things and enjoys him- or herself. As for the children, she says, “What’s really cool is if you grow it. they’ll taste it.”

Next year, they hope to add more flowers, and maybe some fruit trees. “Last year, we did nasturtiums,” Zuckerberg said. “People want more flowers, and more fruit.”

And on the other side of town, in Hamilton-Parkville, Pastor Margaret Herz-Lane gave us a tour of the gardens at St. Luke Evangelical Lutheran Church. This garden is also safeguarded by marigolds—“We had no slugs this year,” said Herz-Lane—and has produced zukes, squash, green peppers, cherry tomatoes, and herbs such as parsley, thyme, and rosemary.

For the creation liturgy at the beginning of one of its services, the St. Luke’s congregation gets a piece of rosemary. This liturgy emphasizes stewardship, said Herz-Lane, and re-introduces the idea that creation is our responsibility. In addition to incorporating the garden’s delights into the services, though, like Netivot Shalom, this congregation donates its garden surplus to their own food pantry.

The garden was conceived of by nurses from the congregation who form its health ministry. “They wanted kids to reconnect the Earth,” said Herz-Lane, “and there isn’t always much opportunity to do that.” Next year, the gardeners would like to expand to growing potted plants. They’ll also try growing cherry tomatoes again. “A couple of homeless guys I know ate the cherry tomatoes,” she said. “Maybe we’ll grow bigger tomatoes.”

Photos: Mike Milli, 2012

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