NEWBURY — The bounty of the harvest has a special meaning for members of the First Parish Church’s New Eden Community Gardens.
Located behind the church at 20 High Road, what was formerly an overgrown and underutilized tract has been transformed into a haven for local gardeners in the past few years. The open concept garden, which started with 12 cultivated plots in 2010 and has grown to 41 plots, is an exemplar for how a faith community can turn its environmental values into a practical, sustainable enterprise, said the Rev. Jeffrey MacDonald, who assumed the helm of the church in September.
New Eden plots are divided into increments of either 150-square-foot or 400-square-foot sections. Gardeners who wish to rent a plot must agree to use best organic, sustainable practices that emphasize good gardening hygiene, nutrition, companion planting and the creation of habitats that are beneficial to the creatures with whom they share this little piece of vegetative paradise.
The growers not only take responsibility for the care and maintenance of their own plot, but also the common areas, in an effort to create an environment that is pleasing to everyone who visits. Gardeners pledge to commit at least six hours toward the community gardening efforts and agree to donate a portion of their harvest to local food pantries through the New Eden Collaborative Food Initiative.
Frequently these stewards of earth and spirit belong to the First Parish congregation, but church membership is not a requirement. “What is a requirement is a desire to grow our own food organically and to share that experience with others,” said Edwina Goodhue, who has served as the church’s moderator for the past year.
New Eden director Patty McDermott says the garden “fulfills many of First Parish’s objectives to nurture spiritual souls as well as the environment.” New Eden gardeners are bound by the belief that growing their own food is a priority, and that tending soil along side like-minded people is “spiritually satisfying in and of itself,” she said.