Katie Sorrell, Interfaith Wellness Director, UCSD Center for Community Health
Friendly Church of God in Christ has been dreaming of a garden for 25 years. This spring the dream came true! With the help of UCSD Center for Community Health’s Faith-Based Wellness Program, funded by the County of San Diego’s Nutrition, Education and Obesity Prevention program, the church built a 1/4-acre on-site garden, complete with a colorful mural and a fire pit.
Friendly Church of God in Christ, located in Oceanside, is a predominately African American Church serving a low-income community. Studies show that low-income residents are at an increased risk for chronic diseases, and the very environment they live in often prevents healthy eating and an active lifestyle. In addition, African Americans face more health disparities, with higher death rates overall and higher prevalence of many chronic health conditions like heart disease.
To improve the health of the congregation and community, the lead pastor of the Friendly Church of God in Christ connected with the Faith-Based Wellness Program to brainstorm possible health improvement projects and identified an onsite community garden as the most significant need of the church.
The Church and the Faith Based Wellness Program also reached out to other partners in the community including the Botanical Community Development Initiative and Master Gardeners of San Diego for technical assistance and logistics support.
The Botanical Community Development Initiative recruited 80 students from Cal State University San Marcos, Mira Mesa College and Palomar College to come together on March 23, 2019 to build the garden. In just three hours, volunteers built an irrigation trench, cleared the land of weeds, built a fire pit for a community gathering spot, assembled raised beds, built soil furrows, laid mulch and painted a 50-foot mural!
To ensure sustainability of the garden, the church appointed a garden coordinator and parishioners have adopted garden boxes and areas in the garden to maintain. The garden is doing great and is producing squash, beans, tomatoes, strawberries and herbs. The Faith Based Wellness Program also received a $500 grant from Master Gardeners to purchase tools to keep the garden growing including a wheelbarrow, hauling carts, irrigation hoses and hand rakes, shovels and hoes.
Studies reveal that gardening helps reduced stress, anxiety and depression, decreased social isolation, increased physical activity levels, and increased life satisfaction. Some Friendly Church of God parishioners are in the garden every day. One parishioner shared that she's been sober for over a year now, and the garden has been her daily therapy.
“This garden has been one of the best things that’s happened to our church. Community gardens bring communities together, and our church members are motivated and excited,” shared Pastor Morris Woods who is the lead pastor of the Friendly Church of God in Christ.