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Caring for God’s Creation Through Personal and Community Gardening


Pope Francis’ encyclical on the environment, On Care for Our Common Home (Laudato Si’), challenges all of us to turn the global issues surrounding environmental degradation into a personal call to action. The pope writes:
 
“Our goal is not to amass information or to satisfy curiosity, but rather to become painfully aware, to dare to turn what is happening to the world into our own personal suffering and thus to discover what each of us can do about it.”
 
Over the past several decades, environmental awareness has increased in our local communities. The most visible public examples of this are the widespread practice of recycling and the ban on smoking in most public places. Both of these entail individual actions, which positively impact the greater community. I believe Pope Francis is calling us to something bigger, however. What can we do to have a positive impact on the environment, call communities to action, directly serve those who are poor, and provide a lasting legacy for generations to follow? I have found part of the answer in the simple task of gardening.
 
I believe personal and community gardening are direct responses to the sentiment in the pope’s encyclical. Gardens literally use our earth to feed people, and environmentally aware gardeners are able to provide earthly sustainability for future generations.
 
My family immigrated to the United States from Italy when I was 7 years old. In Italy, my dad, like his father before him, maintained a working family farm that produced and sold olive oil and wine. He also grew a wide variety of fruits and nuts and raised small farm animals. This allowed us to be self-sustaining while selling and sharing our surplus.
 
After arriving in the United States, we lived in Brooklyn before my family moved to the Westchester suburbs when I was in my early teens. One of my parents’ first priorities at our new home was to establish a garden. This involved us all working hard, tilling and removing “rocky soil,” and our efforts were worthwhile. My parents’ garden not only nourished and sustained our family of seven, but the extra yield was shared with friends and neighbors. Vegetable gardening was not a common practice in our new neighborhood, and I didn’t fully appreciate my parents’ “labor of love” until I became a parent myself. It was at that point that I planted my own first small garden, which has grown more elaborate with each passing year.
 
Since it was my desire to feed and nourish our children with healthy food, I urged my husband to join me in participating in food co-ops and supporting local organic gardening, community sponsored agriculture, and the health and wellness movement. As our daughters have moved into their adult lives, my personal interest in helping others with respect to health, healing, and wellness led me enroll in a program to become a certified health coach. Since I have done so, my view of ecological issues regarding climate change has taken on a whole new meaning. I have to admit that it can be challenging and disheartening at times to hear the varying opinions of individuals and political advocacy groups that have different agendas with respect to the environment. I find it difficult to decipher who and what is right, and for these reasons, I keep seeking, praying, and aligning myself with the messages of Pope Francis for guidance.
 
In recent years, our parish, The Church of the Presentation in Upper Saddle River, New Jersey, has become a “green sanctuary,” inspired by Pope Francis’ stance in the encyclical on the environment. Last fall, a gardening ministry was formed to plan and build a parish garden, and I was privileged and blessed to be on the planning committee. I can proudly say that the efforts of a small dedicated group of garden experts, interested individuals, and volunteer “worker bees” have given birth to “The Presentation Parish Garden.” The primary goal of this beautiful garden is to grow fresh produce which is used to feed the hungry through the efforts of our soup kitchen ministry. However, growing vegetables as a community has also provided lessons for the children and the families of our parish concerning the cycle of nature, from “composting to harvesting,” and our part in the whole cycle of life. Perhaps the most important less is the value of true Christian stewardship—our personal and communal responsibility in this miraculous process of God’s creation.
 
Ida Tropiano is a member of Church of the Presentation in Upper Saddle River, New Jersey.
 
RENEW International is working with the Catholic Climate Covenant and Greenfaith to produce a small-group resource on Pope Francis’ encyclical called Creation at the Crossroads, for parishes, college campuses, and religious communities. For more information, visit www.renewintl.org/renewearth

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One Response to “Caring for God’s Creation Through Personal and Community Gardening”


 
  1. Honora Nolty, OP says:

    Such a gentle way of presenting such a challenging message. I hope it goes viral. I know I emailed it to 25 people. You go Ida!

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