Grace Church in the Mountains in Waynesville, North Carolina, won the Sacred Grounds award for transforming a traditional church lawn into a wildlife haven and organic vegetable garden serving their food pantry. This church converted their well-manicured lawn to create a “Grace Giving Garden” that produces vegetables for their food pantry. Their traditional church lawn became an organic haven with composting, native plants, pollinator and wildlife certifications, an outdoor worship space, and a classroom for lessons on the natural world. They achieved certification as a Monarch Waystation, Million Pollinator Garden, National Wildlife Federation Habitat, and NWF Sacred Grounds Garden, and in the process, increased their parish volunteers from 3 to 50.
Grace Church rector Joslyn Schaefer said, “God provided us with this incredible garden, the Earth, to farm it and take care of it. In our technological and industrial age, it is easy to forget that our first vocation is to be good farmers: to stay close to the Earth, attend to its rhythms, honor its limits, and to feast from its abundance. The people of Grace Church have helped me, and others in our region, understand that care for God’s creation is a form of reverencing the Lord and a sure, reliable pathway to divine praise. My hope is that this award may inspire other faith communities to find as much delight in caring for God’s garden as we have.”
Read their story in the words of Mary Alice Lodico, a member of the congregation:
“We created our Grace Giving Garden to provide organic produce for the church food pantry, to raise a generation of children to revere God’s creation and become lifelong stewards of the Earth, and to teach the many benefits of converting lawn to garden.
Our challenge was to address entrenched thinking about land use and to convert a manicured, ailing lawn-and-shrub landscape into an ecologically thriving environment. We needed to stop using pesticides, and replace grass with vegetables and native plants.
We wanted to teach and model best gardening practices for food production within a native plant ecosystem supporting pollinators and other wildlife, along with humans. With persistence, our traditional church lawn became an organic haven with composting, native plants, pollinator and wildlife certifications, an outdoor worship space and classroom for lessons on the natural world, and (in the works for 2023) a rain garden to protect our watershed.
Because we live in a uniquely lush biome (adjacent to the Great Smoky Mountains), many people assume that maintaining a lawn on church grounds is an adequate expression of creation care, since there is a diversity of species and natural beauty surrounding us. Our challenge has been to draw upon our wild surroundings as an inspiration and model for learning from the natural world and becoming stewards of our sacred grounds. Our challenges included obtaining grants or funds, building a team of volunteers, connecting with community groups, publicizing our intentions and offerings, and ultimately transforming our church grounds into a teaching sanctuary.
Download the Grace Giving Garden brochure here with more information.
We measure results by our certifications, the water we save via our cistern and drip system, the discontinued use of power tools, fertilizers, and pesticides to maintain a lawn, as well as the number of programs in the garden, the increased number of volunteers, and the support from our church and community. We engaged in partnerships with the following groups: Extension Master Gardeners, Soil & Water Conservation, WNC Climate Action Coalition, Haywood Waterways, Lifespan, Lifeworks, Camp Hope Camp Henry, Boy Scouts, Pigeon Multicultural Development Center, Tuscola High School Masonry & Horticulture classes, Outdoor Mission Community, and the Asheville Youth Mission.
– A donated 1000-gallon rainwater cistern and drip irrigation
– A large field, six raised beds, one high bed for the mobility challenged, an herb garden, 14 pollinator areas, a tool shed, a compost-manure bin, 6 wire compost bins, a permanent bean arch, a garden bench, and picnic tables
– A focus on native plants
– A stone amphitheater for teaching, gathering, and worship
– Workshops on butterflies, pollinators, bees, composting, garden art, scavenger hunts, and more
– Certification as a Monarch Waystation, Million Pollinator Garden, National Wildlife Federation Habitat, and NWF Sacred Grounds
– Three seasons of produce for food pantry guests and partnership with volunteers to harvest their own produce
– Increased parish volunteers from 3 to 50+
– Inclusion in Master Gardeners’ tour of gardens
– A bike rack to decrease car use
Our early desire to teach children gardening became an outreach ministry for all ages, abilities, and backgrounds. Our continually evolving grounds teach and inspire – opening others’ eyes to the beauty around us. Open to all, our garden is a haven of beauty and peace, reflecting love and care for Creation. We are a socio-economic leveler in the heart of a small mountain town, and our grounds connect many people. The garden has inspired our church members to add a rain garden to protect the watershed and a labyrinth to invite all to experience our sacred grounds.”
Read more about the garden on their website.
IPL congratulates Grace Church in the Mountains for their thoughtful care of our common home.