Organic gardening: the next big thing in creating interfaith communities?

Gardens get kind of a bad rap in Abrahamic mythology: just think Eden or Gethsemene. Despite those narratives, Catholic and Jewish congregations in Columbia, Missouri (the college town in the state) have found that gardening together allows them to not only demonstrate their commitments to creation, care and serving the needy, but to also build bridges between people of different faiths.

The Interfaith Care for Creation Garden Project traces its roots back to 2006, when an interfaith couple new to the area who wanted to get their children involved in volunteer projects. Fallow farmland behind Congregation Beth Shalom provided the perfect space for the effort; When founder Mary Beth Litofsky injured her back in 2009, the new Interfaith Care for Creation group (a project of the Columbia Climate Change Coalition) took over. The St. Thomas More Newman Center organized volunteers, and, all together, the effort produced 550 pounds of food – all of which went to local food pantries and kitchens that feed the needy.

Since then, the effort has grown, and Columbia is now home to four interfaith community gardens. While the yields vary from year to year (2010 was a particularly bad gardening year here in Missouri – I can vouch for that), they’re still producing hundreds of pounds of produce annually through completely organic methods. Just as important: they’re getting to understand one another’s faith traditions. Volunteer Lily Chan told the Columbia Daily Tribune “We are getting to know each other’s faith, we’re gardening together and we’re providing food to the needy.”

So, is gardening together the answer to religious strife around the world? Probably not – but, in this case it does seem to work as a method of finding the common ground between different faith traditions, and doing some good in the community, all by digging in the dirt together.

Know of other efforts like this? Tell us about them.


Image credit: Terwilliger91 at Flickr under a Creative Commons license