Sacred Space of Community and Worship

Black Church Food Security Network

by Lauren Hales

At Pleasant Hope Baptist Church in Baltimore, Maryland, Rev. Dr. Heber Brown, III, pastors a congregation that serves as the flagship garden and impetus for the Black Church Food Security Network (BCFSN). The BCFSN provides start-up funds and garden expertise for African American congregations to begin growing healthy food on church land. Rev. Brown explains, “Roughly seven years ago I was inspired to start a garden at our church after visiting so many members in the hospital who were admitted for diet-related issues. After trying to establish a partnership with a local fresh food market and realizing that their prices for produce were very high, beyond the reach of what we could afford, I was propelled to present a vision to our congregation about growing food on the land we already own.” So far, nine churches actively grow food in Baltimore for BCFSN, with six churches on the waiting list and two mosques ready to become partners in Baltimore as part of an ecumenical effort.

Dr. Brown is aware that gardens will not solve the entire problem of food access and unhealthy eating habits. BCFSN massages possibilities around economic stability, neighborhood and physical environment, education, and community and social context. But he says, “The greatest difference I’ve seen so far with our church gardens is that they stretch the imagination of what’s possible. It primes people to imagine themselves living closer to their food systems, which has great positive consequences related to health.” The Pleasant Hope Baptist Church’s 1,500-square-foot garden grew over 1,200 pounds of produce in the last growing season alone.

Historic and contemporary organizations like the Federation of Southern Cooperatives and the Detroit Black Community Food Security Network set the template for BCFSN to follow. The BCFSN exists to nurture and support black church-owned gardens, and by doing so it not only creates access to healthy food, but it also supports local black-owned farms by facilitating pop-up produce stands at churches during peak service hours. Combining community and commerce, BCFSN works to close the food access gap; the “church in the black community is the institution that will be here when the grant runs out, and when local food isn’t the buzz anymore.” Using this sacred space of community and worship to plant gardens, Rev. Brown is mobilizing his faith community to make smart decisions in their diet and to utilize their land in improving their health.

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