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Reimagining the ‘Charity Garden’


Planting the seeds of justice

May 19, 2022

Gardening inside a hothouse Caption:Gardening began for me as a personal spiritual practice. Something about having my hands in the dirt grounded me. As I began getting more serious about it, I began seeing how food intersects many of the areas of justice, from race and immigration to ecology and wealth inequality. I saw that growing food was a way to effect change on a local level as well as a place to start conversations about larger systemic changes. When done well, gardening can be both a means of connecting to the Creator and to our neighbors.

At the end of 2019, a pastor friend of mine was bemoaning finding volunteers for a garden project. “I like to garden,” I told him, not realizing what I was stepping into. A month later, he introduced me to the Rockrose City Farm —  one of several community farms throughout Baltimore that was once a rock quarry, then later a baseball field. It eventually became a community garden with individual plots and one central plot called the “Charity Garden.” The Charity Garden had been maintained by a couple who attended my friend’s church. The church inherited the garden after the couple retired to Florida.

In the best of times, getting a garden off the ground would have been a challenge. But as we know, the spring of 2020 was not the best of times. After about a month straight of not leaving my house, I came to garden and was overwhelmed by what I saw: The plot was overgrown with weeds, and the hoop house was filled with garbage and random tools.

Fortunately for me, the Presbytery of Baltimore has an amazing asset in The Center — an organization that exists “to inspire and equip churches and individuals to engage boldly with their neighborhoods.” The Center’s staff supplied Rockrose with volunteers in those beginning months. It was also through The Center that Brown Memorial Park Avenue Presbyterian Church became involved. Their associate pastor, the Rev. Michele Ward, put out a call for volunteers. One member of Ward’s church particularly found gardening to be healing. McKay Jenkins, a journalist and English professor at the University of Delaware, dedicated additional time to build raised beds, potting tables and an irrigation system. The connection to the space became intensely personal for Jenkins, who started working at the farm shortly after losing his parents, both of whom were avid gardeners. “Working with my hands helped me find some sense of grounded-ness in an otherwise very unsettled time,” he said.

Jenkins’ leadership has extended beyond growing food for others. He and I have both bristled at the “charity garden” label that we inherited. We’ve challenged ourselves to move beyond charity. Jenkins has begun by inviting his students, most of whom come from affluent backgrounds, to work in the garden and learn about the food justice issues that exist in Baltimore. It has also meant inviting local students from the city to the farm. These are small steps, but we continue to dream big about ways the garden could be used for education, job training and resourcing small business. Our hope is that this space can be as healing for the community as it has been for each of us.

Derrick Weston is the co-host of the “Food and Faith” podcast at He is a member of Ashland Presbyterian Church in Hunt Valley, Maryland.

Today’s Focus: Charity Garden

Let us join in prayer for:

PC(USA) Agencies’ Staff
Julianna Sheridan, Business Administrator, Investments, Board of Pensions
Alejandra “Alex” Sherman, Executive Assistant, President’s Office, Administrative Services Group (A Corp)

Let us pray

Lord, give us the willingness to love others to the point of sharing our faith intimately with them in deed and in words. Help us to appreciate the least of these in our midst. Amen.

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