“Would you look after the berry patch this year?” The story of the Gift Farm-Garden

A guest blog by the Rev. Anne Privett

The question hung in the prickly air of this unseasonably cool spring. We were just entering our third year of small-scale farming as a parish, and the second year of our completely restructured community life. This would mean tending a mere 2,000 feet (!) of blackberries and raspberries along with the 8,000 square-foot vegetable plot and additional garlic plot we had been learning how to farm. We knew absolutely nothing about berries. But we knew someone who did and they could teach us. “We will do our best!”

And so began another adventure . . .

St. Andrew’s (an Anglican Church in Kelowna, BC, Canada) has been on a remarkable journey since the pandemic hit. In the midst of lockdown, we continued our newly launched visioning process, safely consulting, discerning, and then communicating the three mission goals to which we heard the Holy Spirit calling us: Celebrate our Anglican Tradition, Cultivate each one of us as disciples and leaders, Connect in relationship as we serve our community.

We had literally no idea how the Spirit meant cultivate until two new parishioners (newly retired organic farmers) joined our pandemic Zoom services. Their vocational gifts spurred the search for land and the use of land was gifted to us by the Thomson Family on their urban, working farm just minutes from the church. By Easter 2021, The Gift Farm-Garden was born. Soil testing and amendments, row preparation, moving deer fences, buying tools, seedlings arriving from neighbours and other farms in the valley, weeding, (so much weeding!). We marvelled as lettuce survived unprecedented heat-dome temperatures and celebrated when irrigation was installed in August.

In our first season, 1,500 lbs. of fresh, organic produce (mostly leafy greens!) were gifted to local group homes, our Cathedral’s food bank, organizations in the downtown core, and households experiencing food insecurity. Messy Church made the farm-garden their worshipping home and by 2022 we had not only established liturgical rhythms of land blessings by our children but we also watched as the farm began revitalizing partnerships between Anglican parishes in our Central Region.

By this second summer, we were happily welcoming the hands and hearts of neighbours of all faiths (and none); 1,700 lbs. of vegetables were produced and given away. Next, the Thomson’s gifted us the use of another plot of land and we started a garlic crop which, come November 2022, made for a most epic parish garlic festival! Who knew St. Andrew was the patron saint of Garlic!

We did know that the farm-garden was cultivating us just as much as we were cultivating it. Learning the necessity of good soil, of companion planting & crop rotation, of rejoicing in and making room for plants that grow out of nowhere,  (amaranth plants!—have you seen them?—they are huge!), of encouraging healthy growth to mitigate pests and weeds, and also just how ruthless you must be when certain weeds and pests threaten an entire garden. There are so many metaphors that are not only applicable to the spiritual life, but also of the life of our Christian communities.

While we laboured on the farm, our Church Council laboured in “holy curiosity sessions,” suspending judgement and ownership, as we looked at the organizational structure we had inherited as a church. Our new mission goals could not thrive in our current structure and many of our leaders were tired. So we integrated our ten  standing committees into three Circles of Ministry each led by a pair of team-leads with set leadership terms. As we held God’s Kingdom at our center theologically, liturgically and organizationally, our community soil began to rejuvenate.

New ideas sprung up that were neither initiated by or dependent on clergy: an occasional choir for Sunday worship, and borrowing the canvas labyrinth from Christ Church Cathedral Vancouver for Advent. We also wrote our own confirmation curriculum, writing a learning series on our baptismal vows for the entire congregation. We engaged in intergenerational learning and discussion during Sunday sermon time followed by peer learning for the confirmands after the service. Companion planting and growing of another kind.

It was Molly Thurston, of Pearl Agricultural Consulting, who gifted us with her time and taught us about cultivating berries. It took hours longer than we anticipated to properly prune 2,000 feet of berries as we discovered the word “lopper.” As this third year begins, we are being taught the art of pruning. In the same week we spent hours pruning. Having poured hours into planning our first-ever parish retreat we learned that the parish wasn’t ready for a multi-day event–so we lopped off a whole day; we adapted and we tried again. Learning to grow is one thing–learning to prune (and to be pruned) in order to bear fruit is another (John 15:2). By Christ’s grace, we’ll do our best.

The Rev’d Canon Anne Privett is Priest and Rector of St. Andrew’s Anglican Church, Kelowna, BC.

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