Fresh vegetables and herbs will be available throughout the neighborhood, thanks to the Prayer and Produce Community Garden sponsored by St. Mark United Methodist Church.
The South L.A. congregation, headed by Pastor Gary B. Williams, dedicated the garden on August 7, and anointed the land as its contribution to the fight against food insecurity, also called food deserts, which refer to limited access to quality, affordable and healthy products.
Church members and local residents were on hand to celebrate along with the Rev. Dr. Jennifer Oliver and the Rev. John E. Cager III of Faith Community Coalition (FCC), and Jamiah Hargins of Crop Swap L.A. The garden was made possible by a grant that FCC received from Logos Faith Development LLC to sponsor two new community gardens in the South LA area and St. Mark was the first recipient.
“This project is not only a place to grow food, it’s also an expression of our interaction and faith in God and allows us to be a part of God’s good creation. Cultivation of the land is part of our faith tradition. Genesis 2 tells us that God’s first act after creation was to plant a garden,” said Williams in his opening remarks.
“The vision came to us in the early days of the pandemic when we realized that so many people were lining up for food in this community and we were able to give out groceries. We wanted to utilize this space to grow produce so we could share that with our neighbors. For the last two months, we’ve been able to share produce with 20 families per week, so we give God thanks for that,” he noted.
Developing community gardens in South L.A. is the brainchild of Oliver, who directs FCC’s Food Justice Policy. “St. Mark UMC was an ideal candidate as a pilot site for our program because the church already participates in mitigating food insecurity by distributing food to their community and has a leader, Pastor Williams, who understands the correlation between food accessibility and health disparity,” Oliver said.
“We envision this garden being a wonderful opportunity to nourish the community with food, love, care and concern for the whole person,” she added.
The produce in the garden includes squash, cucumber, okra, tomatoes, kale, collard greens, zucchini, eggplant, celery, herbs, basil, onions, sage, mint and different varieties of lettuce. In the center lies a distinctive wooden cross decorated with small ledges to place vegetables seedlings. A labyrinth path representing a spiritual journey and various plants surround the cross to illustrate that the garden is a sacred space.
Oliver came up for the design of the garden and Hargins and his team brought her vision to life by designating the types and plantings of the produce and creating an irrigation system to keep the area well hydrated. In fact, Crop Swap L.A. is known for developing beautiful gardens out of front yards, back lots and other unused spaces.
“This project is one of my most proud so far,” said Hargins with a big smile. “We came here at the invitation of the leadership and saw what I call an unwanted back yard. What it wanted was to be loved and be used to nurture this neighborhood. We know this community lacked quality food. It’s difficult to find nurturing foods for our body and I’m very grateful for the opportunity to develop this unused space.”
Williams said the multitude of fast food restaurants in South L.A. also influenced him to start a community garden. “We continue to have high blood pressure and health related illnesses that go with unhealthy eating. Black churches are uniquely positioned to use their land to address the injustices associated with food insecurity in our community. We want our community to grow and thrive. We pray that more church and more spaces become available for this great work.”
Logos Faith Development also earned kudos for funding the project and committing to assist with future gardens. The Rev. Martin Porter, managing partner, said, “I am very pleased that LOGOS can underwrite the coalition’s work in the area of community gardens. It is our intention to take targeted action that maximizes social impact and the opportunity for people to both live in the Kingdom of God and to build it up. I can think of no better way to do this than community gardens that cause us to eat better, garden in community, get off of our phones and screens, and into the soil together.”
At the close of the ceremony, Cager predicted that God has great plans for the members of St. Mark UMC. “What St. Mark is participating in is a revolution inspired by God. The saints rallied around the pastor and said, ‘We can do this!’
“I am standing on tip top in anticipation of what God is going to do with this garden. We rebuke poor diets, malnutrition and too little exercise. From the little seed to the greatest bloom, we dedicate it all to God!”
Churches interested in learning more about community gardens can email the Rev. Jennifer Oliver, PhD, at [email protected]