Risk Reporter for Religious Institutions
Spring 2013 Vol. 12, Issue 2
With spring in full bloom, many religious organizations might be considering starting a congregation-based community garden. Risk Reporter spoke with Bryan Ellis, director of the community garden at The University Church of Toledo, about the roles and responsibilities that come with running a congregation-based community garden. He shares information on starting and maintaining a garden as well as the benefits gardening brings to the community.
Risk Reporter: What are some preliminary issues religious organizations should consider when deciding to set up a congregation-based community garden?
Ellis: One of the most important aspects of creating a community garden is determining its purpose — is it an outreach for ministry? Will it grow and enrich your congregation?
Once you determine the purpose of the garden, it also is important to look at the cultural makeup of your community. The garden should engage the community in a way that makes sense to them, by growing crops that the community is familiar with and will use. Along with that, you also should consider where the food will go — whether to food banks, members of your congregation or other community programs.
Risk Reporter: What are the first steps in setting up the actual garden?
Ellis: Start by identifying who will be in charge of the garden. This might be one individual or a committee that oversees the scheduling and office work that keeps a garden running smoothly.
Once a person or committee is in place, it’s important to establish rules that all volunteers must obey when working in the garden. For example, these rules might cover regular garden hours, proper behavior and use of tools and a list of any prohibited substances. All volunteers should receive a copy of the garden rules.
A schedule of common garden chores will also need to be created to ensure the garden is taken care of and that members of the congregation have ample opportunity to get involved.
Risk Reporter: What safety precautions should religious organizations take when setting up a community garden?
Ellis: It is important to be aware of the potential safety issues that come with gardening and know that your congregation and the volunteers are protected. Consider having volunteers sign a liability waiver and complete a medical form disclosing any allergies or medical conditions as well as emergency contact information.
We also have cameras in our garden as a preventive measure against theft of tools and equipment, along with combination locks on sheds. The best defense against theft is to keep your community aware of what you’re doing and make them feel like a part of the gardening efforts.
I also recommend performing a comprehensive site walk-through weekly to look for things like uncovered water vessels or ponds, tools that have been left behind or other problems that could pose injury to volunteers.