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Gardens of Compassion Project Marks Earth Day

To mark Earth Day this year (April 22, 2015), clients from Community Missions' Mental Health programs participating as gardeners in the Gardens of Compassion project visited the greenhouses at Cornell Cooperative Extension of Niagara County (CCE) in Lockport, N.Y. As part of the visit, gardeners were able to see how the vegetable seeds they planted back in March were growing. After the threat of frost is past at the end of May, the gardeners will be using these plants in their individual gardens, located at St. James United Methodist Church (UMC) in Niagara Falls.

Along with seeing their own plants, John Farfaglia, Horticulturist for CCE, told about the variety of plants they have in the greenhouse, which even include a lemon tree, cacti, other plants that only grow in other climates. There was also a chance to learn how aquaponics works, as Bonnie Benton, 4-H Community Educator & Volunteer Coordinator, explained the demonstration aquaponics garden also in the CCE greenhouse.

Gardens of Compassion is a partnership project with St. James United UMC, CCE and Community Missions. The project is based at St. James UMC and runs from February - October.  It offers a chance for CMI clients to have the experience of growing and eating fresh foods from their own garden, with the help of caring members of the Niagara Falls community. It also educates the community and members of St. James church about mental illness and helps fight the stigma associated with it, by providing an opportunity for them to have regular contact with individuals living with mental illness.

"Each year the project has been improving and adding new elements," said Natalie Cook, Grant Coordinator at CCE for the Creating Healthy Places to Live, Work and Play grant program—which has funded CCE's participation in the project. "For the first two years, the gardeners used seedlings grown by CCE and Master Gardeners. This year St. James and the Mission wanted to have the gardeners start all of their own plants from seed, so we helped them with that process and are growing the seedlings in our greenhouse in Lockport until they are ready to go into the ground at the end of May."

Another key aspect of the Gardens of Compassion project is ongoing reflection and discussion about how we are all part of God's creation and have a responsibility to care for the Earth. "It was wonderful that we could help people make the connection between the Gardens of Compassion project and the larger message that Earth Day represents," said Mark Breese, Agency Minister at Community Missions.

"We are so glad to be able to have this partnership with the Mission and CCE," added Jan Babcock, a member at St. James UMC who helps coordinate the project for her church. "Being at the greenhouse on Earth Day really helps bring the messages together. We are all part of Creation and should see its value. That means caring not just about the Earth, but creating an environment that is all about caring for and valuing one another."


Projects and Faith Partnerships like this one are able to be developed and sustained in part through the support of a multi-year One Great Hour of Sharing Development Grant awarded by the World Relief Committee of the American Baptist Churches USA Board of General Ministries. For more information, contact Victoria Goff, ABHMS national coordinator of Volunteer and Disaster Response Ministries, at or 1-800-222-3872, ext. 2449


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