In December of 2008, the people of Holy Innocents Episcopal Church in San Francisco, led by their Senior Warden Margaret Dyer-Chamberlain and her husband Page Chamberlain, planted a vegetable garden. Their mission was to “come together as a community to grow food that will help the most needy and vulnerable among us.”
In a sliver of land between two buildings, parishioners and community members gathered to plant a winter crop of cauliflower, beets, carrots, broccoli, and various leafy greens. By spring there was a second planting, and the children of the parish were wholeheartedly involved, planting and raising their own seedlings at home.
While some of the seedlings were planted at the church, the bulk of them were given away to clients of the Julian Pantry, housed at St. John the Evangelist. Margaret smiles as she recalls, “The children became so attached to their plants that they could hardly bear to give them away.”
As summer approached, the congregation planted fruit trees in containers on the front steps of the church—a sign to all passersby of the bustling life within. Meanwhile, Margaret and Page began organizing groups from Holy Innocents, the neighborhood, and from Stanford University (where Page teaches and Margaret is an administrator) to glean unpicked fruit from local trees. Most weeks at Holy Innocents, an offering of produce is brought to the altar and blessed alongside the eucharistic elements. The produce is then delivered to the Julian Pantry or the Free Farm Stand at 22nd and Treat in San Francisco.
The Holy Innocents community garden is both an example of environmental stewardship and distributive justice. By using previously unproductive space and harvesting neglected crops, this community is transforming waste into life-giving nutrition, and moving us all from scarcity into abundance. In doing so they remind us of the central mission of our churches.
Believe it or not, fall and winter are great times to plant a garden in the Bay Area! Cultivate DioCal is an initiative to promote and support gardening and food-sharing around the Bay Area. For more information, or to find out how you can be involved, contact Griff, DioCal’s Environmental Justice Missioner, at: griff[at]diocal[dot]org