Growing Food as an Act of Faith

By Marlena Nip, Food and Faith Initiative program coordinator

Hello! My name is Marlena Nip and I’m the new Food and Faith Initiative (FFI) coordinator with Seattle Tilth’s Just Garden program. I’ll be here until August as a volunteer with the Jesuit Volunteer Corps Northwest and look forward to sharing more stories about the work of FFI to help faith communities turn their underutilized spaces into food gardens to support local food banks, feeding programs and members of their congregations.

In case you’ve never heard of Just Garden, we work with low income families and communities to build subsidized garden beds and provide organic gardening education. We noticed an increase in the number of requests for gardens from houses of worship, and so sprouted the Food and Faith Initiative here at Seattle Tilth.

IMG_4130On a rare sunny day in December, I had the privilege of working in the garden at Mount Zion Baptist Church with Dr. Georgia McDade. Back in 2011, Seattle Tilth’s Just Garden program built three raised bed food gardens and expanded the existing garden run by Dr. McDade. She proudly points out that they got started before First Lady Michelle Obama began gardening at the White House, making growing your own veggies even more popular.

While I was showing her how to put the garden beds to rest for the winter, she shared a striking story with me.

IMG_4103Dr. McDade was giving a presentation to a group of second graders about identifying foods and there was one picture that stumped them. She held up a picture of a potato and asked the children what she was holding. When there was a moment of silence, she cleverly asked them if they had ever eaten a french fry. “Yes!” they exclaimed. “Where do french fries come from?” she asked. Their response? “McDonalds!”

Stories like this one validate the need to reconnect people to the origins of food through urban gardening. Dr. McDade supports this work through her children’s summer camp. Most of the campers come from low income backgrounds and the camps give them an opportunity to learn where food comes from and how to use the fresh food they grow. This is one unique example of how faith groups can work to improve our food system.

This year, FFI hopes to expand its work to five more houses of worship. We plan to build between the months of April through September in North King County, South Park, Kent, Renton and Federal Way. If you are part of a house of worship looking for resources to start a garden or want to volunteer with a garden build, please contact

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