I pulled up to Holy Cross Lutheran Church in Bellevue, Washington last Thursday excited for what I could not yet see. As Pastor Gary Dalenius walked me out to the back of the building, I realized that this place was just waiting to surprise me. Out I walked to a garden filled with pumpkins, beans and beautiful flowers destined for the altar. Beyond the garden a large orchard, true to its farm ancestry, fills the lawn with old trees growing quince, apples, pears, nuts (for the squirrels!) and plums.

Janet and Jan from the Holy Cross Earthkeeping Group

I walked through the garden and orchard of this ELCA World Hunger grant recipient project with parishioners Jan Starr and Janet Farness and Associate Director of the ELCA World Hunger Program, Christopher Carpenter. As we strolled through the grounds we were blessed to sample some of its splendor. The Transparent apples were soft and juicy in my mouth and the beans crunched with flavor. All of this goodness is part of a strategic process that Holy Cross started last summer in which they decided to address local issues of hunger, caring for creation and homelessness.

Bellevue is a community lush with Microsoft employees and beautiful homes, but amidst this land of plenty lives hunger and need. So the church’s Earthkeeping Affinity Group came up with the idea to take advantage of the large plot of Creation in their backyard to provide food to the community. Twenty-seven community garden plots are now full of flowers and food. Community members attend to their plots of 50 or 100 square feet and harvest fruits and vegetables for their tables. On top of that, as Jan pointed out, “gardens always produce more than you need.” As a result, about 500 pounds of fresh fruits and vegetables have been delivered to the local Hopelink food bank since their first vegetables ripened in April.

Spring pruning in June

This project has truly been a blessing of relationship building. The vast majority of gardeners do not attend Holy Cross, instead they were contacted because they were wait-listed for another garden in the area. The local food bank also suggested some individuals and now they are able to grow their own fresh fare. It has been a blessing for the church to be able to open its land to new immigrants from Iran, as well as for the opportunity to teach a three day Earth Camp for four to six year old kids this summer. Working with local expert gardening societies, Jan and Janet expressed how their advice has helped to keep their grounds organic and help to bring the fruit trees slowly back to bounty. Work parties in the orchard have included volunteers recommended to the church by the City of Bellevue while neighbors across the fence often offer the gardeners a cool drink on hot days. “When everybody’s working in the orchard, everybody’s the same,” explained Janet.

Ramatollah with the first crop of radishes

Putting together the garden plots was no small task. The lot’s glacial soil posed a substantial need for tilling and top soil. Thanks to a $2,000 offering from the congregation, the donation of some tractor time and a whole bunch of helping hands, food production at Holy Cross is a reality today. Through this process Jan and Janet told us how they felt more and more that they were part of a larger movement. In nearby Seattle, the mayor has announced 2010 as The Year of Urban Agriculture, across the street at a neighboring church planting has begun in the parking strips, an ELCA World Hunger grant aided the process and demand for fresh, local food seems to be on the rise.

As one person offered during the visit, “the spirit blows and look what happens!”

Is your congregation interested in getting involved? Have you been considering growing food or offering community garden plots? Please email hunger@elca.org with any questions and to learn more about our grant opportunities. Also, Jan and Janet offer this encouragement to congregations: “Grow For It!”

~Lana Lile