BeautifulRVA Community Storytelling: Eden’s Community Garden
Eden’s Community Garden
by Lauren Francis
The former Winn Dixie building on Broad Rock Boulevard sat empty for a decade before Second Baptist Church moved in.
“We didn’t create the problem, but we aim to be the solution,” church manager Marc Jolley laughs when I note the irony. You can tell that it’s a phrase he repeats often.
The church relocated to its present location in 2008 after outgrowing its previous facility. Senior Pastor Ralph Hodge prioritized being right on the bus line for accessibility. With twelve to fifteen thousand cars passing by each day, the church sits along one of the busiest corridors on the southside of Richmond. Second Baptist serves and is powered by a community that drives twenty-minutes to the nearest grocery store, which translates to at least an hour commute each way by bus.
After a few years in the building, the church decided to take a multifaceted approach to reducing a storm water bill.
“We were trying to figure out some ways to get around a storm water bill that we had and in the process,” Hodge explains, “we decided that we had some property on the side that we could use not only for stormwater retention but on top of that, we could do a community garden.”
Through partnerships with organizations like the VA Department of Agricultural Service, Chesapeake Bay Foundation and Virginia State University, the church has actualized its goal to create a “Godly, comprehensive response to issues of food access” through partnerships with local organizations and institutions.
“When I reflect back on the garden and my experiences in there,” says garden manager Pat Harris, “I think about our first year. How the church was so excited and how we came together and how we took the land from just bare land to helping and digging up the trenches for the cistern and the irrigation system.”
For forty-five days, church members came together for the back breaking work of digging plots and lay down the soil for the rain garden and vegetable gardens.
“What makes our project not just a garden but very unique is that we have a filtration system under the garden,” Marc Jolley explains, “This is where they started with a clean plot of land and they put a filtration system in the bottom. We collect the water off of the roof of the building and we use that to irrigate our garden and what we don’t use to irrigate goes into the filtration system and is treated before it goes into the streams and tributaries that go into the Chesapeake Bay.”
Having been an environmental science teacher, Hodge’s theology is deeply intertwined with stewardship to the earth.
“As a church,” he explains “our goal is to be good stewards and so that means we take care of the environment. It also means we realize that God gave us the environment to produce food for us and if we manage and take care of it, it will bless us.”
Rodney Gaines first arrived at Eden Community Garden in October 2018. A member of the third cohort of the Lewis Ginter Urban Gardener program, he was introduced to the garden as a part of the program’s initiative to add and contribute to existing urban gardening efforts. The group was volunteering in the garden that day.
“I started as a kid in the garden just helping my grandma and not paying any attention and then later in life,” he recalls, “I would help my mom plant plants. She had a lot of snake plants and all these plants in the house and I helped her do that and never thought anything of it, but I had the opportunity to do a course with lewis ginter and I thought well hey. Maybe I can learn something. I didn’t take it seriously but once I started with lewis ginter and met the director duron and seeing how the situation went with farming and how we need more black famers, I started getting serious about it and ever since I was hooked.”
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