A restored world: A JoCo church begins to grow

NOTE:  This article comes from the latest newsletter Urban Grown by the Kansas City Center for Urban Agriculture. To learn more about KCCUA go here.

By Kurt Rietema

So why did we begin a community garden on the property of Pathway Community Church in southern Johnson County?  Well, maybe it’s because there’s a longing inside each of us that we can’t quite put a finger on.  Maybe it’s because we sense that while we’re becoming more and more connected with a global world, we’re becoming more and more disconnected with the most elemental relationships that humans have participated in for centuries.  Maybe it’s because we have enough people we communicate with everyday through thousands of digital matrices of zeroes and ones, yet we hardly know our next-door neighbors.  Maybe it’s because I eat enough hard, pinkish-green fruits from California that can only be named a “tomato” by genetic standards.  I long for the deep, sultry flavor and color of a tomato that was born a stone’s throw from my house and shares the same dirt that I clean from under my fingernails.  It’s a longing for something that is really real.   Real people, real relationships, real tomatoes, real dirt.  In the land of a thousand franchised ethnic restaurants that offer highly sanitized, processed approximations of an authentic chile relleno, there are more than a few of us who crave something that hasn’t undergone sixteen focus groups before it ever makes it to our table.

At Pathway Community Church, that’s the journey that we’re on – a journey for life as it was always meant to be.  We believe that Jesus was all about saving us from our destructive, fragmenting, isolating tendencies and restoring the world back to the way God had intended it.  By opening up our property for an organic community garden we saw an opportunity to make our sometimes plastic-wrapped, isolated neighborhood a little bit more how God intended it.  It’s a place where neighbors can come together shoulder to shoulder, plunge their hands into the soil, curse at weeds and share real-life stories like human beings have done for thousands of years while making the world a little bit greener, a little more beautiful, a little more flavorful, and a little more human.  It seems to us that creating a community garden is somehow in-step with what God is doing in this world and that it’s almost as if we get to participate in this restoration project, this dream of a new world, these longings for what is really real.

I met with KCCUA’s Daniel Dermitzel sometime in January and told him about our dreams of a community garden and future plans for a farmer’s market.  He gave us some thoughts and ideas and unleashed us to make them happen.  I got a few soil samples taken, sketched up a plan for the garden, and made a simple sign announcing a new community garden.  A farmer in our church plowed and prepared our soil and then Kurt Lutz, the husband/father of a couple of our gardeners retilled the land again before planting.  It wasn’t long before the thirty-two plots were snatched up by neighbors in the surrounding subdivisions and a waiting list sprouted up before we even had a chance to get any seeds in the ground.  On April 5, a group of excited, wannabe (myself included) organic gardeners showed up to start tending our 10’ x 20’ plots.  We talked about some of our ideas together and a number of people felt like they probably couldn’t manage an entire plot on their own with their busy schedules so we devised a new kind of suburban sharecropping by sharing duties and the harvest.  Most of us use a common “library” of tools that we use and plan to install lockers so everyone can have some of their own on site.  We’ve formed a Yahoo group to swap ideas and concerns through e-mail threads and have plans to create a farm stand by the roadside to sell some of our extra produce to the surrounding neighborhood.

That’s the first chapter in the story of our community garden.  I’m sure that the succeeding chapters won’t be as rosy as this one.  But for now, we’re content living out our once-upon-a-time beginning in suburbia, blissfully unaware of the grotesque monsters of Mexican bean beetles, squash bugs and striped cucumber beetles lurking around the corner.  Nevertheless, we’ll always be longing for the happily-ever-after of a restored world.

Kurt Rietema is the Pastor of Missional Life at Pathway Community Church on 159th Street in Olathe, KS.  The church started about four years ago and has some 100 members.  Rietema’s interest in urban farming began when he was an undergraduate student in Landscape Architecture at Iowa State University.  Rietema and his wife spent five years in Mexico with Youthfront of Kansas City doing community development work before recently transitioning back to the United States.  Pathway Community Church is one of several Kansas City churches currently exploring food production as a way to build healthy communities. To learn more about Pathway’s urban agriculture project, contact Kurt Rietema at kurt@followthepath.org.

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