There were six of us folks who participated in the Community Garden Service Project on our church grounds—Julie Foster, Beth Burtner, Brenda Fox, Sharon Helbert, Tish Moore, and George Toscano. We spent the first part of the morning on Saturday, August 13, 2016, putting a 3-foot wide border of cardboard layered with mulch around the garden, giving the garden and the plants a protective barrier. We only got 2/3rds of the way around the garden, but we were proud to get this much accomplished given the heat and humidity that day. The church’s garden group hopes to finish the project in the near future when the summer heat isn’t such a factor.
Our garden is a cooperative effort with the New Community Project (NCP). Currently, we have corn growing. The garden is not meant to be a typical garden laid out in neat rows and weed free. Rather it was created in a U-shape which allows it to take advantage of natural drainage. It also is not meant to be plowed but consist of a series of mounds.
Our community garden is a work in progress. So far we have only grown drought resistant plants. Things we still need to do are to get a water source hooked up, and to educate ourselves in order to implement NCP’s garden philosophy and methods. Additionally, we need individuals who can commit their personal time and some financial resources to expanding and maintaining our garden.
We followed up our work in the garden with a tour of the Vine & Fig, which is the community established by NCP along North Main Street in Harrisonburg. You have probably passed by their “White House” with the painted columns on the left side of the street just Washington Street.
The goals of NCP are to practice peace, justice, and ecology. They transformed a neglected part of the city where there had been two crack houses and instead created living spaces for homeless individuals, individuals who have been in recovery for at least 6 months, immigrant families, and interns. In between the dwellings are gardens and energy conservation experiments. Products from the NCP gardens at this location and in the surrounding area are used in local restaurants as well as to feed the NCP community. In sum, NCP exists so we can learn to live simply in order to protect the earth’s resources, help individuals who have been at the margins of society, and promote peace and justice.
NCP seeks to maximize the output they get from their living spaces and gardens. For example, a greenhouse was dug and built several feet underground in order to take advantage of the earth’s heat. NCP uses the greenhouse to grow food in the winter. They also dug a pond in the greenhouse to use to grow tilapia fish. The pond is under the planting slats, and water from the pond containing rich nutrients from fish excrement is used to fertilize the plants. The plastic covering the greenhouse reflects heat which warms the fig trees grown alongside it that need a warmer temperature. The fig trees, in turn, shade the greenhouse.
NCP works with outside individuals interested in preserving our environment and food resources, and has cooperative arrangements with a number of colleges such as Juniata College and Laverne College. On the day of our tour, a Laverne college intern was spending his last day at NCP and a group from a Brethren church in Pennsylvania was working in the gardens. We also observed a moment of silence when a bell tolled calling us to pause to slow down, enter a time of quiet, and enjoy the natural world around us.
At the end of our Community Garden Service Project, we enjoyed a delicious lunch at the Little Grill, a worker owned coop and café. The Little Grill supports farm to table practices and uses local ingredients as much as possible.