Sustainable urban oasis

The sustainable grounds and gardens at Grace provide an oasis in a busy urban neighborhood.

The Vestry of Grace Episcopal Church in Chattanooga approved a plan to revitalize our 2-acre grounds using sustainable landscaping practices, believing the grounds embody our relationship with the natural world and should provide an urban oasis for all life, for the greater glory of God.

Grace is situated on a corner of two busy roads in an older Chattanooga suburb that has significant low income population. As a part of this long term plan, in 2011 Grace Church transformed an unused grassy field into a community garden. This field was covered in fescue grass that required regular mowing and watering for its maintenance. The field anchors one end of a parking lot that is used on most Saturdays for a local farmers market.

The purpose of the Brainerd By Grace Community Garden is to use the land in a more sustainable way, to ease food insecurity among area poor and to provide intergenerational learning through clinics and classes. 18 beds were built over two weekends in the spring of 2011, using 100% donated congregant labor (20 volunteers) and their tools. Beds are either 4’x12’ or 4’x6’. The beds were constructed of recycled, long lasting polymer boards. Funds for the garden came from bed sponsorship from the congregation totaling $4200 and two grants (Community Foundation for $1,000 and Master Gardeners for $500). Expenses as of August are as follows: irrigation parts and equipment $683.56 building supplies $3,275.55 garden fill materials $1,560.00 Gardens are pesticide free and watered by hand. Additionally, there is a composting shed on site to recycle plant waste. Beds are to be kept covered in 2 to 3 inches of organic mulch to reduce water needs.

One bed has been used by the three children’s sunday school classes as an educational tool. The remaining beds were taken within 10 days by both congregants and community members, and there is a 15 person waiting list. Bed rental is kept purposefully low ($20.00/year), with rental waivers granted to encourage participation of all income levels. To provide additional support, the church has sponsored classes on the following topics: home composting, insects and diseases of the home garden, home freezing and canning, and bee keeping. All classes are free and open to the public and advertised through various print and electronic media.

As funds become available, additional plans for the site include the addition of a public berry garden around the fence separating the garden from the road, 3 to 6 more garden beds and a pavilion, with tool storage and bathroom, for outside worship and education.

This Cool Congregations story was submitted by Grace Episcopal Church, Chattanooga, Tennessee.

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