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Tilling Land and Spirit.

Tilling land and spirit sustainability Insights into Religion Lilly Foundation Environment

Church gardens feed community, nourish the soul.

Tomatoes and peppers pop through the freshly tilled soil at Christ Episcopal Church in Ansonia, Conn.

The church, which houses a food bank in its basement, will provide those tomatoes and peppers to about 170 people who depend on the congregation for their daily sustenance.

“We are committed to seeking ways to feed the people who need supplemental food,” says Rev. Amy D. Welin. “It’s a gospel mandate.”

In addition to the fruits and vegetables grown in the church’s 10x12-foot garden, the church is hoping to find local gardeners who will donate extra produce to the food bank.

“In my experience as a home gardener, by the end of the summer my own children refused to eat anymore zucchini,” she says, adding that each year gardeners are forced to find creative solutions for their bounty.

Nationally, one out of six American families are relying on food pantries to help feed them, according to AmpleHarvest, a non-profit organization with which the church has partnered. Such partnerships are helping replace cereal and Mac and Cheese boxes with fresh produce at pantries across the nation.

Congregations are a big part of the campaign as healthy eating, combined with a newfound environmental consciousness has led people of faith to rediscover gardening’s spiritual properties.

Congregational gardens are now a trend. In suburban Washington, St. Luke’s Episcopal Church has been cultivating its land for more than a year. The garden, tended by congregants, is sending the message, “come eat, go serve,” Rev. Stephanie Nagley told Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly.

Nagley says the garden, which used to be part of the church’s front lawn, is a way to follow God’s call to “give away what you’ve been given.” St. Luke’s donates its produce to the food bank, located next door to the church.

Church member Cara Gonzalez, who volunteers in the garden, says she feels closer to God when working the land.

“There’s definitely something spiritual about working with the earth and feeling a relationship with all of God’s creation, and then taking that and making it into a human relationship with those who benefit in the cooking program and with the youth who benefit. I think it’s all about that connectedness, and that’s very spiritual,” she says.

Lutheran pastor Susan Briehl, co-author of Practicing Our Faith: A Guide for Conversation, Learning, and Growth and contributor to the Way to Live Leader's Guide says food reminds her that humans rely on the provisions of God.

“It means depending on one another, depending on other animals and plants and the sun and the air. It’s a great way to acknowledge how dependent we are,” she says. “Eating puts us in the presence of God and reminds us how vulnerable and needy we are.”

For more information on how food connects one with God and with others, check out Food for Life: The Spirituality and Ethics of Eating.

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