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From Growing Pains to Growing Produce

Vernon Park Church of God (Lynwood, IL)

Vernon Park Church of God was experiencing growing pains.

Volunteer Farmers at Mother Carr's
Volunteer Farmers at Mother Carr's

Through hard work, a commitment to justice, and what some say is divine intervention, the church has transformed these growing pains into a Congregation-Supported Agriculture (a new type of CSA!) farm, growing thousands of pounds of fresh produce for the church and community.

By the early 2000s, this congregation on the South Side of Chicago had outgrown their building. The church, which has a long history of supporting civil rights and social justice, had a vision of building a campus on a few acres to offer more ministries and services to the community.

After finding it nearly impossible to locate a suitable site in the city, the property committee found land for sale in the South Suburbs. Before the owner of the 73 acres of farmland had passed away, he stipulated that the land could only be sold to a church. And here was Vernon Park Church of God knocking on the door!

The church had been involved with Faith in Place for years in addressing environmental issues, especially through a justice lens. They had hosted Faithful Citizen Workshops, attended Advocacy Day in Springfield, formed a Green Team, and participated in an extensive energy conservation program that completed retrofits on over 300 homes.

But they had not yet done anything to address the justice components of food. With an abundance of land available, now was their chance.

In the spring of 2012, members planted the seeds in a large vegetable garden named in memory of Mother Julia Carr, a longtime church member who loved gardening and sharing healthy food with the congregation. The hard work and dedication of church members yielded over 2000 pounds of pesticide-free produce in the first year!

Faith in Place helped connect Vernon Park Church of God with a Lutheran church in Urbana that had undertaken a similar project to grow sustainable food on church land and donate a portion to local hunger charities. (Read last week’s post about Sola Gratia Farm at St. Matthew’s Lutheran Church).

Tony Wiliamson (Mother Carr's) and Traci Barkley (Sola Gratia) connect about farming
Tony Wiliamson (Mother Carr's) Traci Barkley (Sola Gratia)

Although Vernon Park and St. Matthew’s are over 100 miles apart and probably would have never connected without their shared interest in growing healthy vegetables for the community, and—as some say—divine intervention, a strong bond has forged between the two. It is extraordinarily inspiring how both congregations and farmers meet regularly to exchange ideas, and share resources such as greenhouse space, seedlings, and even bees hives!

This connection, grant funding, and staff support from Faith in Place allowed Vernon Park Church of God to grow their garden into what is now a 6 acre farm that feeds the community. This year they have over 80 shareholders in the farm this year and are looking forward to a fruitful season of continued growth.

Do you want to learn more about this new type of CSA model? Then check out our program page. Faith in Place would love to help your faith community start a Congregation-Supported Agriculture project!

Interested in helping Mother Carr's Farm with the harvest? Volunteers are needed to help with watering, weeding and preparations for CSA share pick up. Learn more

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