Church Refugee & Community Gardens Thrive in Twin Cities

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Last year 14 metro churches offered gardening space to more than 1,250 gardeners; more expected this year.

TM-Affiliates-AMImagine arriving in the United States as a refugee from an agricultural society and finding yourself landless and living in a high-density apartment complex. Imagine not having enough money to buy food, let alone fresh fruits and vegetables? Now imagine yourself being offered a plot of land at a local church to grow your own food.

Church community gardens are more than just in the community, they build community

That is what some 1,269 gardeners experienced last year because of Church Refugee Gardens, which is supported by Arrive Ministries, an affiliate ministry of Transform Minnesota.

Arrive Ministries has long considered churches’ vast lawn space and a refugee’s often unmet desire to garden to be a perfect match. For the past several years, Dennis Murnyak, church gardens coordinator, along wiRefugee garden 5th a team of volunteers, have helped Twin Cities’ churches discover the benefits of such partnerships. Not only are these gardens providing for some of the Twin Cities lesser served populations, they are growing rapidly in number.

In 2013, 14 metro churches offered gardening space to over 1,250 gardeners, including 263 newly resettled refugee gardeners. New churches are holding meetings with refugee gardeners referred to Arrive Ministries by the Karen Organization of Minnesota (KOM), the Bhutanese Community of Minnesota (BCOM) and CAPI as the 2014 growing season begins.

One Advent Lutheran Church Karen refugee gardener said her garden plot gives her the opportunity to exercise and a reason to get out of her apartment. Xia Pha, gardening at Grace Fellowship, Brooklyn Park, is happy because she can grow an abundance of specialty peppers that are very costly to purchase at local markets. Maggie Spears and Regina Littlewolf, Minnesota-born first-year gardeners at Bethlehem Baptist’s Gardens of Praise of Jericho Road, say they eat well for the season and have extra to share with their neighbors.

Grace Community Garden - Brooklyn Park
Grace Community Garden – Brooklyn Park

Church community gardens are more than just in the community, they build community. Both Spears and Littlewolf say they enjoy the gardening experience because it gives them something to do, and they look forward to meeting new people. Laurie McRostie, landscape architect with Jericho Road, lends her gardening expertise to the 25 gardeners participating at Gardens of Praise. People learn from each other, share recipes and “tricks of the trade.” The garden has become a place of rest and welcome to those who participate.

Grace Fellowship, Brooklyn Park, planned for 100 plots for their 2013 first-year garden, 10 of which were to be tended by people from the congregation to raise produce to be donated to a local food shelf.  Demand caused the church to increase the garden area to accommodate 116 garden spots, which were tended by 85 Hmong gardeners. The church gardeners found ways to both serve their community and to begin to build relationships with their refugee neighbors.

Trinity City Church, St. Paul, has no building and therefore no land, but helped convert the backyard of a St. Paul apartment building into a garden for the residents, several who were newly arrived refugees from Thailand. With the landlord’s blessing, Wah Ler Paw, a farmer in his home country, and his family spent their first Minnesota summer growing produce in their own backyard. With the experience gained, they are already looking to next summer with plans to garden a larger area and grow additional types of produce.

As Gardens of Praise’s objective states so simply, “Shalom is restored; the fabric of life—reconciliation to God, to self, to others and to the earth are brought back to wholeness.”

It’s more than just some soil, seeds and tools. It’s a concept that can be life-giving in all ways to a community. As gardens flourish, people thrive.