Parish allotment

Parish allotment

INTRODUCTION

Growing organic fruit, vegetables and flowers in your parish

with organic gardener Jane Pendlenton

How can growing fruit, vegetables and flowers help your parish and the planet? An introduction to Organic growing.

Written by Jane Pendlenton

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Why would YOU set up an organic fruit, vegetable or flower garden in your parish?  Here are four good reasons. They are interconnected and each one could be the basis of many stimulating discussions!

In summary:

1.To reduce our carbon emissions to help the vulnerable to eat;

2. To protect and enrich the beauty and diversity of creation, including the life of the soil;

3. To heal our mental and physical health;

4. To engage with and witness to the ecologically-conscious, especially the young, on the fringes of or outside the Church.

1. To reduce Greenhouse gases, pollution and protect the vulnerable

Food production is a huge driver of climate change and pollution, accounting for around 25% of global greenhouse gas emissions 3. The vast majority of scientists agree that hugely increased carbon emissions from human beings are almost certainly responsible for dramatic changes in our climate. 1 Producing, storing and transporting our food contributes directly to the devastating poverty of others, through climatic changes, even if we don’t step foot on their land! (See Laudato Si’ 51) For example, a prolonged drought in Madagascar is causing famine and families being unable to feed their children.2 ‘I was hungry, and you fed me,’ says Jesus (Mt. 25: 35) in his summing up of what really matters in how we live our lives. Growing our own food has a direct link with allowing others to produce their own. A parish allotment allows us both to reduce our own GHG emissions and begin conversations with others about why this matters.

Children and families ploughing the soil in Madagascar during an unusually dry period. Photo by John Paul de Quay.

2. To protect and enrich the beauty and diversity of creation, including the life of the soil;

Until the industrial revolution, our food was produced locally and on a small scale. And until the  Reformation monasteries were centres both of learning and mission, and vibrant, biodiverse and productive farms. Nowadays, so much of our fruit, vegetables and flowers are grown on an industrial scale using large-scale machinery and energy-intensive factory-made chemical inputs. We are called to ‘till and keep’ the garden of the world (Gen 2:15; LS 67), but in reality the soil is being degraded on a massive scale.4   According to Scripture, Job himself ‘did not exhaust the earth’ (Job 31: 38-39) but we seem to have abandoned this wisdom.  A healthy soil contains billions of micro- and macro-organisms – all of them God’s creatures!- 5 which provide the fertility for plants. Industrial inputs and practices harm and destroy this life.

When reading books with children about farms, animals and wildlife, they are full of the vibrancy and beauty of creation: it is sad for them to discover the industrial reality of indoor pig farms, and vast, hedge-less, mono-cultural fields.  Not only are we destroying the soil, but we are treating our animals cruelly, and despoiling our countryside. Organic growing is in harmony with nature, with God’s creation. It means avoiding chemical inputs of insecticides or herbicides, and keeping a strong focus on improving soil health. It benefits from years of collective wisdom, experience, scientific thought  experiments  and observation. The key is soil health, and it starts with using compost which can be made from waste products, creating a ‘closed cycle’ system .

A parish allotment allows us to demonstrate to the church community this more traditional way of growing and a reminder of our call to be stewards who ‘till and keep’ the earth.

3. To provide mental and physical strength;

60% of people in Britain are overweight,  6 10 billion pounds are spent on the treatment of Type II diabetes each year, and mental illness is increasing to staggering proportions.7     Could working in a market garden provide an alternative to sedentary desk-based jobs , improving our physical and mental well-being? The skills you might learn could be as literally fruitful as training an espaliered peach! Could volunteering at a local parish garden help those struggling with mental health difficulties and isolation? Is a cheap white loaf and pack of biscuits really what Jesus was  envisaging when he encouraged us to give food to the hungry, given that we are facing a crisis of ill-health due to obesity? Or is it wholesome and nutritious food grown with care and love? Do we need to pay a gym membership to burn off energy moving machines, or could we get fit by being involved in local food production? Not only can we benefit mentally and physically through the exercise and time spent closer to nature, but we can be growing wonderful food and flowers for the Church and for those who need them!

4. To engage with and witness to the ecologically-conscious, especially the young, on the fringes of or outside the Church.

‘God saw that it was very good’ (Gn.1:31). We live in an astoundingly beautiful world, and its beauty leads us to praise its Creator. But we are damaging and disfiguring this world that was made ‘through Him and for Him’ (Col. 1:16), and putting the lives of the younger generation and their children in great jeopardy by our energy-rich lifestyles and over-consumption. Many young people are passionately concerned about ‘green’ issues. If the people of the Church do not show in a concrete way that they understand that ‘everything is interconnected’, our young people will not have faith in the Church..

A parish allotment could allow opportunities for young and old to share concerns and faith, and exemplify ways of healing for both earth and people.

These are some reasons why starting a local food (not forgetting flowers for the church) growing project is a good thing, but how to go about it? It doesn’t have to be overwhelming or unmanageable.. the main benefit may be to initiate interesting and life-changing discussions based on some of the points above..

So…How?

In summary:

1. Start SMALL

2. Gather a team

3. Get help and advice

1. START SMALL

Do what you can do on a small scale. Remember – discussions that are initiated may bear fruit unexpectedly in many areas! Our parishes nearly always have a patch of land large enough for a pot of lettuce, and whatever else we do, they are an empowering place to start!

A parish allotment could allow opportunities for young and old to share concerns and faith, and exemplify ways of healing for both earth and people.

2. GATHER A TEAM

It is best to start by gathering a small team, using an advert in the parish newsletter to find out what strengths and skills are available – you will be amazed!

Decide on a small project to start with, which can be expanded the following year if it goes well. The ideas for projects will be as diverse as our parishes, but how about:

  • A small attractive tub growing lettuce and marigolds outside the parish. This can highlight the use of natural insect deterrents (marigolds), attract pollinators, and stimulate discussion about why it is there. Then why not give the lettuce to someone who finds it difficult to afford fresh food?
  • A small raised bed growing flowers for the church, with a waterproof notice board highlighting the money, packaging, transportation, emissions, pesticides, fertilisers, AND time saved… and the increase in pollinators?
  • A small-scale parish allotment which brings people together for gentle interaction, helping the isolated, and producing fruit and veg to sell for a donation to church funds, or to take to vulnerable and housebound parishioners?

3. Get help and make connections

There is an abundance of material for aspiring organic growers on the web – but this can be overwhelming. We have tried to condense what parishioners find most useful on The Journey to 2030 parish allotment page. A good book or two can be equally helpful. Choose one or two and go slowly: gardening is about learning and making mistakes.

Remember to sign up to The Journey to 2030 newsletter so that you don’t miss out on the Laudato Si’ in your parish retreats. They can be a great way to make connections and share ideas.

Whatever you decide to do – be confident, be inspired, start small and enjoy the beauty of what you help to create and the wonderful discussions that it leads to!

About the Author

Jane Pendlenton is a RHS trained organic gardener. She is incredibly enthusiastic about a revolution in care for the way we grow, share and consume food. She is a regular contributor in helping parishes with organic gardening queries and woes on the Boarbank hall “Living Laudato Si’ in your parish” retreats.

References:

FURTHER READING

Why we need to rethink how we buy, consume and produce our food

A parish allotment can be a very visual reminder to us that food does not magically appear on supermarket shelves, but requires the right climatic conditions, soil and a lot of hard work. Growing your own food can raise some very important questions. Where does it come from? How is it grown? Who grows it and how are they treated?
Our global food supply chain is one of the main drivers of climate change and biodiversity loss, resulting in starvation, war and trafficking.

Cartoon man with a shovel

H2o: The molecule that made us. Episode 3: CRISIS

An excellent documentary about how industrial farming and climate change are a primary driving force of violent conflict and refugees around the world.

Global food systems

How industrial farming and an ‘out of sight, out of mind’ mentality to our food, ends up in far reaching destruction.

The eat report

How can we create a food system that is both healthy for us and healthy for the planet? The lancet explores this topic with some really quite excellent diagrams.

Water footprint?

What we eat has a huge impact around the world on water.

The secrets of food marketing

How can marketing trick us into thinking we are buying something good? The answer is more shocking than you would think.

WORDS OF WISDOM

INSPIRING STORIES

By sharing these inspirational stories with you, we hope to inspire your creativity in your parish and to show that great things can be very simple, and very possible. Please do remember to write to us with any stories of projects that you would like to share.

ACTIONS

TO GET YOUR PARISH GROWING THEIR OWN FOOD

Here is a selection of ideas to get you started! If you have completed any of these projects, or run these services in your parish please do share your story or resources so that we can improve our guide. When deciding what to do, think about what the needs of your community are; some actions will be possible for some and not for others.

As this site progresses we will add links where you will find toolkits and resources to help you plan these activities. Please do send in any suggestions in the meantime.

VERTICAL GARDEN

“We don’t have any land in our parish” is a common problem. However, if we apply some imagination…
…we might notice that many parishes do have space, it just goes up rather than along. If you have a sunny wall, there are all sorts of edibles that can be grown up a wall; from irrigated vertical gardens, to training grape vines, tomatoes , fruit trees or climbing vegetables up the walls – the possibilities are endless! Even hanging baskets can grow salads or edible flowers.

VEGETABLE GARDEN

Could you turn a piece of parish grounds into an allotment?
This is a great way for the parish to get their hands dirty and marvel at the wonders of giant vegetables growing from tiny seeds. Even if you do not have much room, a couple of meters of raised bed can produce quite a bit of food.

PRESERVING

Preserve food you have grown in your gardens by making jams, pickles, sauces and chutneys – a yummy way to reduce food waste!
Preserving food is also a fun, creative way of reusing glass jars and bottles and making gifts for your loved ones.

PLANTS IN POTS

A nice idea if you are short on space is plants in pots. These are especially great for children.
They can care for their own pot and learn a lot in the process. Make sure to have spares in case the naughty slugs spoil the party!

PLANT SWAP

A parish plant swap or sale is a great way to encourage people to grow their own food at home.
It enables members of the community to make the best use of their skills and space to grow their favorites and share with others. Knowing that Mrs Goggins has succeeded in creating hardy tomatoes, while you have got the beans off to a roaring start means you can both look forward to a varied harvest! A plant sale can also be a great way of raising funds for other projects.

ORCHARD

Apples, plums, cherries, pears, or even the elusive quince can all be grown in your parish.
The beautiful blossoms are great for pollinators and the fruits can be enjoyed by the whole parish.

FORAGING

We are going on a berry hunt! Organise a foraging expedition with someone who knows their way around a hedgerow.
This could be for wild garlic, elder flower, blackberries, or the highly popular sloe. This is an activity that has different treasures with every season.

MORE ACTIONS

There are lots more activities that can help you make the most of your parish outdoor spaces on the wildlife gardening and appreciating nature pages. Getting dirt under your nails, growing food, and getting stuck into projects that create a welcome for all creatures great and small, really help us cultivate a deep appreciation that we are creatures living as part of God’s marvelous creation.

Appreciation of nature page

WILDLIFE GARDEN PAGE

USEFUL WEBSITES

To help your parish allotments

These resources have been tried and recommended by our resident experts, editors and parishioners from across the UK. These are more general and practical resources for a multitude of uses. Simple and accessible, they are a great place to start!

Need training or tips?

The Royal Horticultural Society has it covered. You may well have a RHS-trained gardener in your parish – you just have to ask.

What does organic mean?

The Soil Association will tell you all you need to know about healthy soil, healthy ecosystems, healthy food and healthy people!

Short on Space?

Grow Veg have some great ideas on how to get the most out of the space you have.

Got a little more space?

How about setting up a parish orchard? We recommend Herons Folly Garden as a supplier of organic apple trees.

UK alliance of small scale organic growers

Join and support and receive a quarterly newsletter- read articles as diverse as the state of the UK organic market, and wool waste as fertiliser for rhubarb.

Charles Dowding's YouTube channel

Charles Dowding is a leading expert in no-dig organic gardening. He has a range of excellent videos covering different gardening topics.

How does A PARISH ALLOTMENT HELP US MEET THE LAUDATO SI' GOALS?

The Laudato Si’ Goals are our global Church’s vision for action. Launched by the Vatican in 2021, the 7 goals aim to guide us in our mission to care for our common home by recognising the integral link between all ecological and human systems. 

Have a read below about how the topic of this page helps us to meet each of the goals.

response to the cry of the earth laudato si goal logo

RESPONSE TO THE CRY OF THE EARTH

By growing our vegetables locally and organically, we negate the huge amount of emissions and chemicals involved in importing food from around the world. A vegetable plot is such a simple way to reduce the carbon footprint of our diets.

response to the cry of the poor logo

RESPONSE TO THE CRY OF THE POOR

Vegetable plots often share their surplus with local food banks, which helps ensure that the community’s poorest people have access to fresh fruit and veg. Growing our own vegetables also helps us live in solidarity with the 27% of the global population who live off the land (globalagriculture.org).

ECOLOGICAL SPIRITUALITY

Tilling soil has been used as an allegory for the spiritual life since Old Testament times; we can use our care for the planet through vegetable growing to engage with the internal work that needs to be done in our own hearts to enable us to grow closer to God.

Ecological Economics logo

ECOLOGICAL ECONOMICS

Local, homegrown and organic vegetables are an economic and effective way of making our consumption more ethical; in avoiding global value-chains we also reduce the risk of contributing to damaging practices (e.g. unfair labour, pesticides and transport emissions).

Adoption of simple lifestyles laudato si goal logo

ADOPTION OF SIMPLE LIFESTYLES

In growing our own food, we simplify our food production; eradicating the need to transport products, use pesticides or packaging. It also encourages a more plant-based lifestyle, reducing our damaging impact on the environment through the animal product industry.

Ecological education laudato si goal logo

ECOLOGICAL EDUCATION

Growing food locally is a great way to encourage young and old alike to learn about ecology; we learn the importance of protecting soil quality, the lifecycles of different crops, how to naturally manage pests and most importantly how reliant we are on nature to provide our food!

Community involvement and participatory action laudato si goal logo

COMMUNITY INVOLVEMENT AND PARTICIPATORY ACTION

Allotments can serve as ways to bring a community together; to invite people from all over the locality to help grow, prepare, and eat the produce!

How do Parish allotments HELP US MEET THE SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT GOALS?

The 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) were adopted as a part of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development by the United Nations in 2015 as a blueprint for more just future for people and the planet. Recognising that all injustice is interlinked, the UN invites the world to make these goals a reality by the year 2030.

See below to find out which SDGs relate to the topic of this page.

ACTION STATIONS

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Do you have an inspiring story that you would like us to feature? Write to The Journey to 2030 at info@journeyto2030.org or click the link below.

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read laudato si'

Read the document that inspired The Journey to 2030.