The little Kawthoolei Garden in East Central

Community gardens are becoming practical ways to cultivate a more healthy neighborhood and foster opportunities to build more relationships within the community they are planted within.

Three years ago, Jacob’s Well started a garden and this year looks like it’s going to be even more fruitful than it has been. We named the garden after the traditional word of the Karen people’s homeland in Burma. Kawthoolei means “land without evil” in one of the dialects of the the Karen language. We felt like it captures our prayer for East Central too. We have been working and worshipping with Karen people since 2006 when we began a journey into refugee resettlement ministry through World Relief.

As the years have rolled on and ‘refugees’ have become people with names, rather than titles of political and transitional designations, we’ve seen projects arise reflecting the growing community in our neighborhood and the love for other people’s stories becoming our own.Three years ago, we resurrected an unused backyard donated by a generous landlord for our church to use as a garden. With a lot of hard work and donations from church members, we have slowly seen this small part of East Central begin to produce good food and nurture a stronger sense of community as we work together in the garden.

Last fall we were able to harvest and produce grape jelly from a grape vine that we nurtured into health. It used to be a scraggly, almost dead vine on a metal fence, but with love, care and patience, it has flourished and is now bearing all kinds of goodness. We see it as a prophetic picture of what God is doing in the lives of people living in East Central.

Last year, we started gathering our neighbors and international friends in the neighborhood to join us in the garden. It was beautiful to see Asian, Micronesian, Cuban, African and Americans working together among vegetables, fruit and flowers. This project has truly become the the means for seeing a little better life, grow up among us in the neighborhood. I look forward to warm summer months when I can sit in the shaded garden, eating some raspberries and taste the words of Jeremiah in my hands, “This is what the LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, says…“Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce…Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the LORD for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper” (Jeremiah 29:4-7).

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Alan Eschenbacher

A roundabout result of a broken down sprinkler system gave birth to the community garden at All Saints Lutheran Church in Browne’s Addition. While trying to fix the sprinkler system a neighbor walked by and commented on how good the soil looked. I agreed and the lawn was subsequently removed and a community garden emerged. That was 5 years ago … the garden is now much more organized and gets better each year. There have been the inevitable growing pains but the end result is a place where community happens. People come together to cultivate the soil and be involved in the miracle that God gave us … hidden in seeds. The death of the seed, followed by the life of the plant and the subsequent plurality of fruit that nourishes us with its goodness. The neighbors with no yard for gardens reap the fruit of their labors and they share the bounty with the soup kitchen at All Saints, those on the fringes of society and living in the hardest of conditions, enjoy a beautiful fresh salad each Tuesday night during the season of plenty. Nearly 800 pounds of produce wound up in our kitchen and on the plates of the needy. A miracle of life and relationship and community living on a small patch of land that before had produced only grass clippings!

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