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Church, community take garden concept to next level

Church, community take garden concept to next level

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

Church, community take garden concept to next level

By Derek Maul | Feb. 2, 2010 {1134}

When the Rev. Jim Walling first accepted his appointment to Parkway United Methodist Church in Pompano Beach, he was inspired by the congregation’s response to its “Church Transformation Project.”

The Rev. Jim Walling makes outdoor potting tables that volunteers will use when working with seeds and potting seedlings for the Parkway Tedder Community Garden. Photo courtesy of Parkway Tedder Community Garden. Photo #10-1387.

“The church had been worried about survival,” Walling said. “The question was ‘Are you going to be (a) church or close?’ ”

Parkway members responded in the affirmative, and they did it with a quality of spirit that Walling said helped him realize “this was a church I could fall in love with.”

Parkway member Wayne Boswell has served as church trustee for seven years. “This church was dying,” he said. “We had to consider is it worth saving — and we were.

“We identified initiatives and realized that we were already community-minded,” Boswell said. “We had a food pantry, we provided an outside shower for the homeless, we were feeding people breakfast every Sunday morning. We’re located in a poor community and blessed with seven-plus acres, but we weren’t utilizing the space.”

The assessment process that came with the Church Transformation Project helped Parkway members understand their future was in service.

“When Jesus said, ‘Love thy neighbor,’ he didn’t mean just the other people in the pew,” Boswell said.

Parkway was already wondering exactly how God wanted the church to move forward when Hurricane Wilma barreled through the area in late 2005 and took down a number of huge trees, opening up the church property.

“It was as if God said, ‘What are we going to do with this land?’ ” Boswell said. “And the answer was, ‘Share with the community.’ ”

The ingredients were all in place: needy people, both poor and homeless; a community-minded congregation; underutilized land; big hints from God; and above all, a commitment to “be church” rather than close the church’s doors.

Beans, tomatoes, peppers, eggplant and other produce grown in the garden supplement food given to families through the church food pantry. Photo courtesy of Parkway Tedder Community Garden. Photo #10-1388.

“I am by no means a gardener; no green thumb here,” Boswell said. “But my passion is feeding people who are hungry. Planting a garden made sense.”

Cutting-edge partnership

By the end of 2008, plans had taken shape for the church to launch a unique partnership with the nearby Tedder Neighborhood Watch community association, and the Parkway Tedder Community Garden was born.

The association was already involved in all the usual programs, from crime awareness and home improvement to social concerns. Adding a partnership with a local church established a bridge of shared concern that has turned out to be groundbreaking for the church.

“Tedder took monies originally intended for flowers, landscaping and general beautification, and now they’re helping the community garden, especially in terms of native plantings,” Boswell said.

The partnership also includes South Florida Urban Ministries, the urban ministry and social justice agency of the Florida Conference’s South East District.

The mission of the garden is to seek “God’s peace and wholeness by caring for the earth, sharing with those in need, and fostering spiritual health,” according to the garden’s Web site ( “The garden exists to re-connect people and creation with each other and with God.”

That includes providing a variety of produce for the church’s food pantry. December marked the first time the garden was able to fulfill that part of its mission.

And like all projects that become a hybrid born of divine inspiration and passionate volunteerism, the garden has already grown beyond its humble beginnings. Garden volunteers now offer field trips, workshops, educational opportunities and special events.

Second-graders from Tedder Elementary School release ladybugs into the garden’s banana grove as part of a field trip there in November. Photo courtesy of Parkway Tedder Community Garden. Photo #10-1389.

“We started this as a community garden, plants, veggies and flowers,” Walling wrote on the garden Web site. “But it quickly grew to something more amazing.”

Test-running innovative concept

A big part of the expansion has been the visionary influence of Donna Torrey and Miguel Aafonso, Florida Master Gardeners. Aafonso presented the partnership with the idea of a food forest designed to utilize the principles of permaculture gardening.

Permaculture, food forest and community partnership are three concepts that set the Parkway project apart in the expanding world of church gardens.

The Permaculture Institute defines the practice as “an ecological design system for sustainability in all aspects of human endeavor. (Permaculture) teaches us how to build natural homes, grow our own food, restore diminished landscapes and ecosystems, catch rainwater, build communities, and much more.”

Walling and Boswell say the garden is being developed with a strong sense of environmental responsibility.

“Creation care and environmental stewardship is vital,” Boswell said. “In permaculture, each part of the garden helps replenish another. It means not wasting water; it means adding elements to the soil that trees need via appropriate plantings; it means working with creation instead of against it.”

“We’ve insisted on being organic,” Walling added. “Our intention is to invite people to know God’s creation and to know God better because of the way we approach it. This is one way we ‘do religion.’ The Tedder Community association understands our tie-in to God, and there’s no conflict.”

Mango trees near the banana grove in the garden’s food forest survive the freezing temperatures that hit Florida in early January. Photo courtesy of Parkway Tedder Community Garden. Photo #10-1390.

Initiatives such as the release of 5,000 ladybugs into the garden, natural composting techniques, a long-term investment in rain barrels to minimize waste, and planting schemes that blend mutually beneficial plant species — sweet potatoes around the base of banana
trees, for example — have defined the ongoing reinvention of the project.

It’s an approach that has captured the attention of the very demographic Parkway had been losing. “Young people hear about this and want to participate,” Walling said.

Boswell agrees. “Most of the people involved are younger,” he said.

That includes young families from the church and young people from the surrounding community.

Church attendance has improved, Walling said, but not dramatically. He referenced, instead, Parkway’s renewed sense of mission and confidence of purpose.

All told, and especially in terms of the evolving relationship with unchurched people from the neighborhood, Parkway’s ambitious initiative has “future” written all over it.

“The food forest is a 100-year ministry,” Walling said. “I see the people, and they are ready to join in. They’re ready to follow.”

Since June, more than 700 trees have been added to the site, including a citrus forest, fig trees, mango, papaya, lychee, starfruit and banana trees.

“By planting in circles rather than rows, we were able to fit more planting into a smaller space,” Aafonso said.

Both Walling and Boswell also envision exporting the permaculture concept via mission initiatives to Central America.

Rain barrels help volunteers conserve water and practice good environmental stewardship. Photo courtesy of Parkway Tedder Community Garden. Photo #10-1391.

Not content to rest on its laurels in the short-term, however, Parkway Tedder Community Garden is sponsoring a one-day leadership workshop designed to spread the vision to other churches and community organizations.

The March 20 event, titled “’Discover New Ways to Celebrate Creation and Build Creative Communities,” is for anyone interested in learning how a vital partnership with other community agencies can impact a local church, reach out to the community and make a significant impact on hunger. Details are available at under the “Leadership Workshop” link at the top of the page.

The garden is also offering its first-ever Tea in the Garden fund-raiser Feb. 27. Attendees will explore the tropical food forest and various garden plots and then have tea in the garden. The money raised will support the food pantry plots, sustainable irrigation efforts, youth education, production of local organic produce and food forest.

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News media contact: Tita Parham, 800-282-8011,, Orlando

*Parham is managing editor of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.
**Maul is an author and freelance writer based in Valrico, Fla.