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Below are excerpts from a conversation between intern Mik Henzel and Reverend Sarah of First Churches of Northampton’s Common Ground farm-to-table dinner ministry to reflect upon the Church’s experience and time with Grow Food Northampton’s Community Garden:
How did you hear about Grow Food Northampton?
When I was dreaming up what this ministry might look like, I was doing some research on what was important to the area and I realized that 6 percent of people go to church in this area, but 95 percent of people would describe sustainable agriculture and care for the earth as their primary value. I kind of followed that rabbit-hole down the internet and the logo for Grow Food Northampton came up and I put it in my vision board.
What inspired you to take on a plot/what attracted you?
Interestingly enough, I felt called to start a farm-to-table dinner church, but I thought we were just going to buy food from local farms because I don’t know how to grow anything. Can’t even keep a house plant alive! But enough people were attracted to it from the very beginning that knew how to grow things and they said let’s try it!
This has become our office and its become a very holy place to us”
How many people are involved with the garden?
I’d say at least a dozen.
What do you grow?
- Ground Cherries
- Bok Choy
What do you do with the produce?
The first and third Thursday of each month at 6 o’clock we make dinner together and do church over dinner. But we also have a farm cart that we roll out in front of the church and on Thursday afternoons we get a delivery from Grow Food and we have a take-what-you-need pay-what-you-can farm cart.
What have you learned in the garden?
I have learned so much. It has inspired a lot of sermons. I think one of the primary things I have learned is that New Englanders aren’t very good at opening up to each other directly, but when you give them something to do together they start to share a lot with each other and form relationships and they don’t just learn how to take good care of the earth but how to take good care of each other.
A lot of good relationships are built out here gardening”
Can you recollect a favorite moment?
In the fall, late September, rather than do the dinner at church we do it out here. One day I was teaching on the Psalm that says “the Heavens are telling the glory of God” and then the sunset started and the sunset was so glorious. So red, so pink, so orange, that my words suddenly became unnecessary and obsolete. I just stopped and looked and said ‘well the Heavens on earth are telling the glory of God, there it is!’ I totally got upstaged by God!
We have two families that come from the Congo and they have been through very long and harrowing journeys to get here and they are renting spaces in Northampton so they can’t garden where they are. But part of subsisting in Africa you needed to have a garden, it was really important to them and their survival. So getting them here I just watch as their whole bodies relax and it feels like a very healthy, healing place for them. I have watched some of the Congolese kids lie in the grass and just look so happy.
How has it overall impacted your organization?
Well, when I started the Church it was after I had been a traditional Pastor for many years. I felt like people could come and go through all of the motions of Church without having a meaningful interaction with other people. And so, I thought, if you do a dinner Church, you’re going to cook with people, eat with people, have conversation over dinner, and clean up with people, and form relationships with people. All that is true, but once you come out to the garden this just adds a whole other dimension to it. You’re growing food with people, when you’re think about what you’re going to make with it, when you’re depending on each other to show up. I just find that with those relationships people begin to care for each other so deeply.
If they didn’t garden with her, she’d just be the lady who sits three pews over”
Community Gardeners are an important constituency at Grow Food Northampton, and we are grateful that they contribute to the strength of the local food system by getting their hands in our soil.
The Community Garden is a very special part of Grow Food Northampton. It gives many residents of Northampton and nearby towns the ability to garden, even if they have no land at home, are unable to afford starting their own garden, or simply need a peaceful environment to spend time in. Several organizations, through the participation of community gardeners like Sarah and other Common Ground members, are able to further manifest their own missions by maintaining plots in the garden. Regardless of religious or other affiliation, we encourage interested organizations to contact our garden manager to discuss how to make this type of relationship work for everyone.