Urban Agriculture Challenges and Solutions: Part 3
This is the third in a series of articles about the challenges gardeners and farmers have faced while working in an urban area, as well as the solutions they have come up with in the face of these issues. Read the previous posts from the series here and here.
A Skeptical Gardener
Allison Reed was skeptical about joining a community garden. Mostly because she hates bugs. Especially mosquitoes.
But when Florida Cargill, garden leader of House of Living Stone community garden, asked her if she wanted a garden bed two years ago, Allison decided to give it a try.
She still hates bugs, but has found an enjoyable hobby in community gardening. She even calls it one of the most relaxing hobbies that one can have. Planting citronella plants in her garden beds has also helped keep the bugs off of her when she comes to tend to her plants during summer evenings.
House of Living Stone
House of Living Stone community garden was founded in 2011 and is part of the First Baptist Church of Webster Groves. The name, which often draws interest, is based on the bible verse 1 Peter 2:5. According to Florida, the verse is about Christ talking to Peter about how believers are the living stones of a church.
The garden’s relationship with the First Baptist Church of Webster Groves means that it is used quite often for bible studies and events. It functions as a community space where members of the church can meet while enjoying the striking beauty of the garden.
And striking it is. When I first visited the garden on a September evening, the sun was just beginning to cast light through the trees. The garden, which is set atop a steep hill, features a variety of flowers and a small orchard and seems to welcome visitors in with its many benches and picnic tables.
Children in the Garden
One of the unique components of the House of Living Stone community garden is the emphasis on making the space a welcoming place for children.
At one edge of the garden, there is a patio area made of many painted concrete pavestones. The pavestones were painted by children of First Baptist Church of Webster Groves and feature bright designs, names, and references to biblical stories. The paintings were designed to celebrate the church’s 150th anniversary and several of the pavestones have images of large birthday cakes as a result.
The garden also has a bed for children to plant various vegetables and flowers. This past summer, it held sweet potatoes and marigolds.
Florida and other garden members work hard to ensure that the garden is a place where children can come to play and enjoy its many wonders.
Problems and Solutions
The garden is undoubtedly a haven, which is made obvious as soon as you climb to the top of the hill where it sits and take in the view around it. But, like many community gardens, it experiences both environmental and involvement challenges.
This past summer, the garden’s biggest problem has been moles and groundhogs. The gardeners tried building fences made of chicken wire around their garden beds. The makeshift fences worked at first but half-chewed sweet potato leaves made it obvious that the problem required more action. Some of the gardeners eventually built a cage made of chicken wire around their garden bed. This prevented any critters from climbing in and making a meal out of growing vegetables.
House of Living Stone Community Garden, like many others, has also experienced periods of low membership and engagement.
Florida said that she keeps an eye on the garden beds and reaches out to members to ask them if they need anything if it seems like they are having trouble making it to the garden.
She also credits continued membership to the enthusiasm of the pastor of First Baptist Church of Webster Groves.
“He always tells people about the garden and how to get involved and makes sure to announce events there at church meetings,” Florida said.
The garden’s strong connection to the church has meant that excess produce has a convenient place to be donated. The church has a food outreach ministry that provides supplemental meals to those in need.
The garden is a unique entity. A place of calm in a city that teems with life. It provides both respite and a place to challenge oneself.
“Planting something new every year is fun. I just like to see if I can grow something different,” Allison said.
I entered the garden stressed from traffic and honking horns. But as I walk down the hill the garden sits on, the light slanting low, I feel a sense of calm that was not there before.