Two synagogues and a church join forces to fight hunger through a community garden
It’s a Tuesday evening, and Rabbi Craig Wyckoff is turning the compost in a wire bin next to rows of kale, tomato and cucumber plants on the grounds of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Studio City (UUCSC).
When he’s finished, he leans his pitchfork against a shed. But there’s still a meaningful task left to perform. “Close your eyes,” Wyckoff instructs. “We’ll say a blessing.”
In the cool, late-August twilight, he stands before two plump, yellow squash fruits and recites the borei pri ha’adamah: “Blessed is God, King of the universe, who creates the fruit of the Earth.”
It’s a common scene at the church, where members of the UUCSC community and the two Jewish congregations that rent space at its facilities are finding their roots — and each other — in a cooperative garden. In March, volunteers from the church, Congregation Beth Ohr and Congregation Tikkun Olam partnered to build the Shared Earth Project, an organic patch of vegetables and fruit trees they committed to maintain together. At this season of Sukkot, the interfaith project is feeding their desire for a closer relationship while also feeding the hungry.
Founded with charity in mind, the aim of the 700-square-foot garden is to grow fresh produce for locals in need, said Jeanne McConnell, UUCSC member and garden committee chair. Organizers split their weekly harvest between the San Fernando Valley Rescue Mission and Jewish Family Service’s SOVA Community Food and Resource Program. So far, they’ve donated about 50 pounds of food.
“The intention of this was to open up our land to the community,” McConnell said. “One in six people across the U.S. go hungry at least once a month, so this is the kind of thing that’s really needed.”
Yet acting on their values isn’t the only benefit the three faith communities have reaped. Each group has also gotten to know its neighbors in new ways while digging in the soil.
“We had been here for so many years and had no real connection with the church except for talking to them about administrative things, like rent,” said Sue Nevens, a board member at Beth Ohr and garden volunteer. “So when Jeanne presented the idea to us, we thought it would be so nice to work together and get to know each other. That has been very fulfilling.”