Yesterday, the first roots and seeds of this year’s garden found their way into soil and peat. The deep, rich smell of wet earth is simultaneously intimately personal yet ancient and transcendent. It recalls childhood springs gone by, and not-so-distant ancestors who joined the struggle as tenant farmers, and a God who planted a garden and invited us to get our hands dirty with Him. A God who, by telling us to take care of His garden and calling it good, teaches us that both the pleasure and the work found in seeds and clay and manure honor Him.
My garden is a little less traditional than that of my ancestors. I, like many other Millennials, live in an apartment. But thanks to the collection of practices known as urban gardening, I’m able to enjoy getting my hands dirty even on rental property. Urban gardening, however, is about much more than what it does for me. Every scoop of dirt and every picked pepper tell me that urban gardening can and should be an important part of Christianity’s future.
To look to the future of our calling, we need to look at our past. When Jewish survivors of the Babylonian conquest were led into exile in Babylon. When faced with the decision to assimilate or wall off their culture while in exile, Jeremiah gave them what had to have been an astounding message from God. In Jeremiah 29, the exiles are told to “seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile.” Early in the chapter they are told to plant and eat of what they plant, a sign of permanency and involvement. This is a God who wants His people to make gardens and put down roots, like He did, even amongst the chaos of exile. This is a God who wants His people to make their cities better, whether or not our neighbors follow Him. And if the church wants to be His people, we will work for the peace of New York, Tokyo, or whatever other Babylon in which we find ourselves placed by God to sojourn.
Our planet is becoming increasingly urban. Only 100 years ago, 2 out of every 10 people lived in an urban area. As of 2010, 6 out of every 10 did. By 2050, it is projected 7 out of every 10 will. If this comes to pass, the impact will be extraordinary. Concrete and steel will choke out more green space. People will increasingly leave the land for apartments. As a result, the UN projects we will need to sustainably produce 70% more food by 2050. And one can imagine the impact of sprawl and pollution as urban centers continue to explode. Where can the church seek peace and prosperity in that? On porches, and balconies, and courtyards, and roofs overflowing with God’s beautiful plants.
Urban gardening provides churches serving in urban contexts with an amazing opportunity to fulfill Jeremiah 29 (and many other scriptures). Imagine if more urban churches, particularly those in more metropolitan areas, engaged in urban gardening. What would we, and the rest of the world, see?
We would see more people, Christians or not, reminded that they are made in the image of a creative God. You have to be truly creative to get certain crops to grow in the urban context. A quick Google of “urban gardening ideas” will show you a cornucopia of pallets turned into vertical herb gardens, tubs and pipes repurposed into self-watering planters, and dead spaces reimagined into thriving gardens. Reconnecting with God’s purposes for us to creatively work to better His creation would certainly lend more peace and prosperity to a city.
We would see more green and less grey. This is easier on the eyes, but also on the rest of the body. As any 4th grade science class will tell you, plants help our planet regulate heat and carbon. What a beautiful way to fulfill our God-ordained roll as stewards of Creation, even among our inorganic metropolitan jungles. The benefits obviously wouldn’t end with those who belong to Christ. Anyone in the area would find more peace in a city made greener by Christ’s church.
We would see more fresh local food made available to those experiencing material poverty and malnutrition. The easy availability of junk food and the premium price affixed to far too many fresher options serve as dual impediments to urban nutrition. Those who can afford healthy nutrition could band together to bless those who can’t. And rather than simply handing it out, why not invite our neighbors into our efforts, getting to know them while we work together to decrease hunger? Decreasing malnutrition would go a long way in increasing peace and prosperity.
Does urban gardening take a lot of work and patience?
Yes…but so does following Christ
Could urban gardening get us out of our comfort zones?
Yes…but so does following Christ
Would urban gardening require lay people devoting to God skills like scientific reasoning, infrastructure planning, research, and others we often don’t associate with church ministry?
Yes…but so does following Christ.
Interested in urban gardening? Well get moving! Nearly every growing zone in the United States is either experiencing sowing season or will in the next few weeks. What are you waiting for? Use your God-given talents to research and plan. Get your friends involved and engage in the kind of community God designed us to crave. Dig. Enjoy God’s Creation and praise Him for it. Relish what it produces. And while you’re out there, maybe you’ll catch a vision for a little more peace and prosperity in your city.