Union Park Church Community Project Seeks to Grow, Cultivate Relationships

Posted by Megan Wahl | Published October 10, 2016

Union Park Church Community Project Seeks to Grow, Cultivate Relationships

Each church within the Ames/Des Moines CityChurch network has characteristics that make them unique to the neighborhood or area they are impacting. One characteristic that makes Union Park Church unique is that three of its main families and the leaders of the church live within blocks of each other. Being in such close proximity to each other leads to another unique characteristic, a project that is part of the church’s greater vision.

Union Park Church leader and primary shepherd James Riley is quick to give credit to Rick Rosno for undertaking this project. A groundbreaking project that grows on a small plot of land on the corner of Jefferson Avenue and East Ninth Street in Des Moines. A project that, even though it’s only in its first year, has already raised questions and opened the door for conversations. A project that Rick hopes will cultivate interest and participation. That project: a community garden.

By definition, a community garden is a piece of land gardened by a cooperative group of people living in the area. Rick said Union Park Church’s goal is to provide neighbors a section where they can garden and grow their own produce. He also wants to expand on that definition by inviting those who take part in the garden to workshops and teaching them life skills. “We eventually want to have harvest parties, educational workshops where we show kids how to plant or adults how to cook,” he said.

A small version of the garden was started last year, and that was just to show what they planned to do, Rick said. This year, he has spent a lot of time building the basic infrastructure for the garden. Cari Rosno, Rachel Riley, and Leah Vos have planted this year’s garden and help Rick maintain it. One other person with a tie to the neighborhood also currently has a plot. For those working in the garden, it has been an opportunity to talk with neighbors. James said although he hasn’t been involved with the planting or harvesting, just during the time he was helping build the fence and installing the posts, a lot of people were asking what they were doing. “In just that small amount of interaction, you could see that this garden will impact the area,” James said.

“People, whether or not they are participating, love the idea,” Rick said. And loving the idea has brought forth a concern where Rick must tread lightly. “People are currently taking the ‘community’ part of the community garden to heart,” he said. “As in, they are simply coming over and taking produce.” Rick, who lives across the street from the garden, said when he sees people taking things from the garden, he tries his best to go and talk with them. “I try to use this time to educate them on the purpose of the garden, see if they’re interested in participating, and get a little of their story,” he said. At the same time, he delicately tells them that the produce is for those who participate in the garden and that they’re basically stealing. “I would guess that I only meet 10 percent of the people who are actively doing this,” he said.

One instance that has impacted Rick and sticks out in his mind was on August 21. “I joked with Cari while leaving the house to go across the street that I was going to go ‘spread the gospel,’” he said. “Little did I know, when I went across the street that Sunday around noon, I met Paige. She was already eating the vegetables. I started off the conversation about gardening … soon, it became apparent that she needed help.” The only items on Paige were a bag and her bike. She asked to use Rick’s phone since hers was dead, to call her mom. When she couldn’t get ahold of her mom, Rick remembers asking her if she had anywhere to go. “She said ‘no’ and started crying,” he said. “I asked her if she wanted a hot meal and she accepted.” Rick brought her up to his house, and his family was able to give Paige a hot meal and charge her phone. “We learned a little about her, but really all we did was just try to love her,” he said.

Rick doubts he’ll ever see Paige again, but already, he can see the impact the community garden will have for Union Park Church and its neighborhood. James agrees, because despite the garden being in the beginning stages of becoming something greater, he said, “I think we are getting close to being able to get imbedded deeply in the community.” Union Park Church sees the community garden as a long-term project and an important facet to their church mission. With each family playing a role, and being so close to immediately engage with neighbors, new relationships will only grow from there.

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