Grow local, think global

St Patrick’s Church, Wapping

A church in east London is home to a kitchen garden that has raised thousands of pounds for CAFOD. Parishioner Lance Lawlor Smith writes about how this garden has made him feel connected to the people across the world.

St Patrick’s, Wapping, is a beautiful church that has served the local community for the past 150 years. And I feel blessed and privileged that I’ve been able to contribute a little to the history of the church through helping create its small but productive kitchen garden.

The story began in 2005. On a cold November day, myself and a group of eager volunteers met to turn some waste ground belonging to the church into a sustainable garden. The idea was to grow vegetables, which would raise money for CAFOD.

Looking back, I’m amazed that the fact we had no experience in gardening didn’t put us off. The work was intense – from breaking up rubble to laying out vegetable beds to digging in horse manure, we worked with determination but no real idea if it was going to work.

But, to our great astonishment, it DID work. The vegetables grew! Over the years we have produced a huge selection of vegetables and fruit including asparagus, courgettes, cucumbers, potatoes, tomatoes, strawberries and even figs, which we sell after Mass on Sunday mornings during the season.

Fruit and vegetables being sold after Mass

And the garden has continued to expand. In 2012, we acquired bees, which meant we could produce honey. But it’s not always been easy, whether it was fighting to keep the garden alive through COVID or tragedies like destroying our bees on government advice after a hive crazy following the death of their queen.

But, despite or maybe because of the difficulties, working on the garden has made me reflect deeply about my faith and even the state of the planet.

We live under the shadow of climate change – we saw this first hand with this summer’s drought and the unseasonably warm weather this Autumn, which changed the way the garden developed this year, from aubergines and olives ripening outside to picking tomatoes in November.

It can feel like an impossible task to address this challenge. But rather than despair, working on the garden shows, in a small way, the importance of doing what you can.

The garden is a model of sustainability. Everything is used, such as the tubers from this year’s beans stay in the ground to create nitrogen for next year’s crops. It’s wonderful to see the joys of creation, on a small scale. It has also inspired different churches and parishes to get digging, creating their own kitchen gardens, as well as deepening our connection with other people and businesses in Wapping.

And because the money goes to CAFOD, the garden connects us with the broader, human family across the world. It connects Wapping with our brothers and sisters in Ghana, Ethiopia, Nicaragua… The garden is an example of enacting what you believe – acting environmentally, on a local scale, helps us think more globally.

Pope Francis speaks about the need to care for “our common home”. And in a small way, a kitchen garden in Wapping has helped me understand this message. By looking after this small patch of earth, we are helping others in a truly sustainable way.

With thanks to John Mullen, a volunteer for CAFOD who visited the kitchen garden to hear about the amazing work.

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