Asbury Theological Seminary continues to be a leading member of the Seminary Stewardship Alliance. Recently we had the opportunity to do a follow-up interview with Ryan Smith, the current garden manager for Asbury’s Community Garden on its Kentucky campus. You can read our previous interview with Ryan here.
The Asbury Theological Seminary Community Garden is a space where students and their families, staff, faculty, and Wilmore community members can grow fresh, organic food and have opportunities for relationship, recreation, education, and formation. Asbury has received a grant from the Dora Tes Basileas Foundation allowing Asbury has been able to further engage in and contribute to the Wilmore community. We hope that by sharing Asbury’s experiences other seminaries will be encouraged in their current gardening projects, or inspired to start a gardening project.
Seminary Stewardship Alliance (SSA): Can you tell us about some of the new community garden initiatives you started this year, and how has the community engaged with the new projects?
Ryan Smith (RS) : New Community Garden Park features added this year included a stone fence entrance, a gazebo, five cedar benches, and two fire pits. Additionally, we were able to create a one mile nature path. The additions have helped facilitate a sense of community. The garden is now used for parties, bonfires, and even a fun run on the nature path. Couples from the community have begun using the walking path for “date nights” that include an evening stroll. It has been encouraging to see that the food grown and picked through the U-pick program has created many shared meals in the community. Community members are able to share a meal with 100% organic foods.
SSA: One of the goals of the garden is to equip students to start their own small businesses. Did you see any students pursue that this past year?
RS: This summer, the Office of Community Formation partnered with the Office of Faith, Work, and Economics to launch a new community garden small business incubator program. The program’s goal is to provide a cohort of 10 future pastors experience in the area of economic development as a means of empowerment, evangelization, and social entrepreneurship. The cohort members were to create a small business in the community garden. The pastors were required to create a business plan, and were given a small stipend for start-up capital. Egg production, lavender growing, organic herbs, honey production, a fruit orchard, and cut flowers were just some of the ideas presented. The hope is that the experience will equip these future pastors to encourage business people in their future congregations
SSA: Asbury offered sixteen workshops for the community this year. Which workshops proved most popular? Do you plan to add any additional topics next spring?
RS: Two workshops were very popular. One of these was, “The Blessing of Bees,” which was taught by Phil Clark, Vice-President of the Bluegrass Beekeeping Association. Also, Mark Tanaka, a former Wall Street hedge fund manager turned local egg producer, taught a workshop entitled “Egg Production and Poultry Basics.” New workshops in 2015 will include: “Planting and Maintaining an Orchard,” and “Growing Cut Flowers.”
SSA: What outcome from this past gardening season excited you the most?
RS: Our goal for 2014 was to maximize participation in the garden. We hoped to get the 100% organic food into as many bodies as possible. To achieve that goal ALL the food grown in the community garden was given away free of charge. From early April, 100% organic produce grown in the garden has been freely available to our seminary and the greater Wilmore community through our U-pick program. This decision greatly increased the number of people utilizing the garden, and partaking of the food. We were able to give the produce to the seminary dinning service to distribute to our students. Additionally, a Free Weekly Farmers’ Market is available outside the student center. With the success, Asbury has also been able to donate free 100% organic produce to local Embrace Church’s Monday night meal, which serves the homeless and low-income families of the community.
SSA: What are some the goals for the next gardening season?
RS: Goal #1- To increase involvement in the Community Garden from local Wilmore residents.
Goal #2- To increase the number of Wilmore leaders on the Community Garden Wisdom Council.
Goal #3-To achieve long-term sustainability for the garden by achieving a regular rhythm of incoming donations.
Goal #4- To assist the small business cohort members execute the business plans and achieve their educational and financial goals.
Goal #5- To give Community Garden produce to an increasing number of local ministries and food pantries.
SSA: Can you tell me about the relationship between gardening and spirituality?
RS: It’s no mistake that when God created human beings, he put them in a garden. Gardening is about preparing the soil, planting the seeds, watering and caring for the plants, and harvesting the fruits. Gardening has a direct spiritual parallel for the way God intends for us to do His ministry. His ministry involves transforming people’s lives and following the model of preparing the spiritual soil, planting the seed of the Gospel in people’s lives, following up and caring for others through discipleship, and seeing them become fruitful and reproducing their lives into others, this is all of God’s amazing spiritual gardening work.