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Religious Institutions & Community Gardens - Politics = Policy &All Politics is Local

  • Subject: [cg] Religious Institutions & Community Gardens - Politics = Policy &All Politics is Local
  • From: "Honigman, Adam" <Adam.Honigman@Bowne.com>
  • Date: Tue, 28 May 2002 13:53:13 -0400


I don't own a car, but I have heard that ample parking space is a core value
on much of this planet - anywhere where the internal combustion engine
rules. :)

We just have to help you get your Cedar Rapids, Iowa  Methodists to see the
light. I am convinced that they already possess this light within them to
love community gardens & sustainable agriculture. It must be that the eyes
of the congregation's leaders (undoubtedly good, practical people) have been
focused on visions of larger parking lots to accommodate the faithful. It
is, however,  possible to widen their purview.  

Confession: I met Rev. Tom Henderson at the Green Thumb Community Garden
Grow Together in the Bronx this spring. During a break in the seminars, Tom
& I  stood talking for a bit next to the ACGA table manned ( or should I say
womaned?) by ACGA President Ellen Kirby. In a town with the largest Jewish
population in the world ( actually larger than Tel Aviv's) I was outnumbered
two to one by Methodists. But our hearts (when we talked about the
abomination of hunger in this country, sustainable agriculture and community
gardens and their growth of community) beat as one. 

Tom, Ellen & I were finishing each other's sentences. It amazed us - but
it's like saying that sunlight is good. 

It's hard, though, when talking about community gardens and sustainable
agriculture that  many - to use Plato's description - are sitting in a cave,
understanding the world through shadows projected on the cave's interior.
You just have to go in that cave, not get intrigued by those cave shadows (
sometimes illusion is more attractive than reality) and try to lead the cave
dwellers out to the sunlight. Incidentally, when Tom, Ellen & I were
talking, all on the same page, parking lots did not enter the discussion

There is hope.
Tip O'Neal said that all politics is local. And we have to remember that all
congregations of every religious denomination are made up of individuals who
help create policy. Now, it would be downright  arrogant of me to try to
give you a cookie cutter formula to you and say, "go forth and convert these
folks to love community gardens", but I will leave it up to you to see if
anything that I've learned in NYC is at all relevant to your Cedar Rapids
experience. If not, the delete key is a wonderful invention...

One of the great embarrassments of life in NYC is the fact that we still
have hungry people here - the richest city in the world, lines around the
block for luxury restaurants and yet so many of our citizens are hungry. Our
food pantries and soup kitchens are running at full capacity. To handle the
overflow, some churches and synagogues in zip code 10021 ( Manhattan's ritzy
Upper East Side) decided to help out by offering meals throughout the week.
It was supposed to be a stop-gap, a way to help augment the work done in
areas where the poor live. 

That was twenty years ago...

First it was undomiciled men that came, now it's mothers and families as

How Adam got to zip code 10021 - Every congregation has folks that are less
well-to-do. We came over from Hell's Kitchen to Emanu-El as our neighborhood
did not have a Reform Congregation, and because the 150 year old
congregation has fine children's and adult religious instruction. Both my
wife and son became bar and bat mitzvah here. We own non-gardening clothes.
It works out.

Sunday is Congregation Emanu-El's day to help ( Sunday is Sunday for our
Christian partners) and while peeling, chopping, cooking and packaging the
meal - sit down in Winter, box lunch in Summer - the volunteers talk. As a
former restaurant worker, I do a lot of the chopping and cutting, sweeping
the vegetable peels and carrot tops into a special bin for composting at the
Clinton Community Garden. Explaining why I schlep "garbage" home ( remember,
these are "sophisticated urbanites") has enabled me to explain what
community gardens, open space in underserved communities and community
garden food resources mean in low-income communities. Some have checked out
the garden's website, visited in person or - have even written letters and
advocated in favor of community gardens...I'm proudest of the Republican
gentleman who wrote to Mayor Giuliani on behalf of community gardens, "Isn't
this what volunteerism is about?," he asked. Recent co-congregant, Mayor
Bloomberg may have heard him. This is a Republican mayor whose
administration is actually negotiating with NY State Attorney General
Spitzer ( a Democrat who belongs to Central Synagogue, 10 blocks away) on
the issue of community gardens in NYC, instead of calling gardeners names,
like the our fine but flawed former Mayor Giuliani. 

Did I help this process along by being involved? I don't know. But when you
talk to people, one-to-one and work alongside them in common cause on issues
that may not be related to open space and community gardening, people
sometimes listen. Sometimes I bring flowers from the garden to the ladies
who help in our soup kitchen. Everybody likes flowers...

Some arrogant suggestions from a New Yorker who should know better: Maybe
your Cedar Rapids Methodist congregation has folks who care about the hungry
and want to do something personal, not just write a check. It is likely that
they have more than a few congregants who are already  doing something about
hunger and maybe remember when they had less.  Lots of people used to be
hungry and were fed by others. 

It might be a nice thing to visit the minister, the men's club and the women
who are the heart and soul of any organization in America and talk about
your garden's mission. You might just strike a chord there... Introduce
yourselves to the minister - be neighborly. We have Methodists in our NYC
garden, maybe you have some in yours. Going to services and shaking hands
isn't the worst way to spend a Sunday morning, especially if it's not a
great gardening day, like in the winter.  Religious institutions do an awful
lot of outreach in this country, it might not be a bad thing to reach out to
them...might even be a way to get the lovers of parking lots, as I said
before, to widen their purview. Altar flowers are a nice thing and if they
are used in your Cedar Rapids congregation, a mention from the pulpit that
the flowers came from "a community garden two blocks away from here that
feeds the hungry" might not be the worst thing. 

It doesn't hurt to get to know your neighbors, even if they only drive into
the neighborhood on Sundays. 

Best wishes,
Adam Honigman

-----Original Message-----
From: JillWUGS@aol.com [mailto:JillWUGS@aol.com]
Sent: Tuesday, May 28, 2002 10:42 AM
To: betsy@bostonnatural.org; community_garden@mallorn.com
Subject: Re: [cg] More Gardens!

That is a good article in the Tennessean. It is commendable that the 
Methodists have Thomas Henderson advocating for churches to get involved in 
urban agriculture- there is definitely a dichotomy between position 
statements of the church and individual actions of local churches. We have 
the largest Methodist church in Iowa in our neighborhood. They have taken 
houses down to create more parking so their parishioners don't have to walk 
far, (and not among those in the neighborhood. Their parishioners are not 
from the neighborhood- they are more affluent. The neighborhood is poor.) 
They are looking at expanding their facilities (tearing down more houses and

the parking lots will follow.) It is our neighborhood, the people who live 
here, who are developing community gardens, native habitats, and a CSA 
garden. We make the observation: the churches see vacant land and want to 
pave them for parking lots, the neighborhood see vacant land and we want to 
put a garden on it, (and we do.)
Thanks to the ACGA and conferences- we have learned about connecting to the 
land and renewing our neighborhood through community gardening. We also 
learned from NYC, Philly and Portland about permanence of gardens- the 
neighborhood association owns our gardens- no one can take them away from
I agree, we need more gardens- one at a time. Unfortunately, the churches 
haven't been the best stewards to the land, at least in my neighborhood. 
---Jill Jones, Wellington Urban Gardeners, Wellington Heights Neighborhood 
Assn., Cedar Rapids, Iowa

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