"Hopewell Gardens" is the community garden of G.O.D. Intl. It is currently 7,000 square feet, growing nearly 50 different varieties of vegetables, with berry bushes and fruit trees growing along the perimeter. There are no chemical fertilizers used, and no technological short cuts taken. Each bed was hand dug with shovels and spades by community volunteers. Hopewell Gardens is an incredibly productive place. In 2012, it turned out nearly 3,000 pounds of produce, and this year is promising to yield even more. The fresh produce services the G.O.D. community, as well as many neighbors in Hopewell. Several local restaurants have also become loyal customers, and they are the newest vendor at the Donelson Farmers’ Market.
Behind each tomato, cucumber and zucchini harvested in Hopewell Gardens, there are lives being cultivated through the rhythm of the garden tasks. All the single students of the Institute participate in weekly garden shifts. They are faithful all year long to help tend to the needs of the garden throughout the seasons and they contribute directly to the success of our agricultural endeavors.
But the summer brings an influx of activity to the garden. In the first two weeks of June, we facilitated Camp Skillz for lower-income children in the Nashville area. This brought 50 kids to the garden, many of them for the first time. A summer camp for the children of our organizational employees, Camp Kaibigan, brings another 20 on a weekly basis. In its busiest summer to date, Students Living A Mission (SLAM) is bringing over 600 children to work with our organization. Most of them will work in the garden in some capacity as an experiential learning tool.
Do all these hands benefit the garden? Usually. But our biblically-derived ethics focus on the benefit to the individual as well. When 40 middle school kids come to spend an afternoon working in the garden, there will likely be more time spent instructing them and helping them work as there will be time for them to be "productive" in the garden. They may lack the energy or drive to work hard in the summer heat, and likely they have never gardened before. We teach them about the process of growing food, and help them try it out. Our hope is that they will become inspired to serve and learn based on the stories we teach them from the bible, and by the examples we give with our lives.
“The vast majority of kids that show up haven’t had any interaction in growing food,” reflected Seth Davis, director of Hopewell Gardens. “Our culture separates us from the source of our food. Having students work the ground is educational in a practical way, as the kids learn where food comes from, and how it grows. But it also connects them to people around the world. The regions we work in—Southeast Asia, India, Latin America and East Africa—are primarily agrarian societies, and growing food is a part of their daily reality. When their crops fail, it directly affects their families.
The garden also helps to teach the ethic of hard work. And while we are working hard together, there is time to talk and build relationships with the kids. During a SLAM week, they go out and do service projects interacting with refugees, and underprivileged children, but then the garden provides a time for reflection, to process these experiences, to share their stories, and gives the SLAM leaders a chance to hear about their lives.”
Last week, Seth spent time getting to know a SLAM participant as they bundled garlic together for an hour. The student was a football player with an injured knee, and Seth spent that hour investing in him. “We talked about things that I wish I would have known when I was his age,” Seth said. It was a productive time in many ways.
On another SLAM week, a teenage boy tasted his first homegrown strawberry in the garden. It was a moment that no one will soon forget. His eyes grew wide and he shouted, “It tastes so real!!!”
We aren’t intended to serve the ground or worship the earth. We tend the ground and cultivate it in such a way that it preserves the lives of human beings, those created in the image of God. But nutritious food produced by the garden isn't the only benefit to a human life. In the garden, individuals learn about hard work, food production, creativity, innovation, and about life itself--a rare and precious experience for youth today. In this way, we aren’t just growing a garden, we are developing people. This is our practice in Hopewell Gardens.