The Lutheran Church of the Reformation had a reputation as an eco-conscious congregation. Members planted native prairie grass in front of their St. Louis Park church, and offered a section of their grounds as a community garden for residents of the surrounding Birchwood neighborhood.
But earlier this year, with its members aging, the congregation disbanded. They turned over their church building and 4 acres of prime land fronting Hwy. 100 to the Minneapolis Area Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA).
And now local residents are wondering whether the Birchwood Community Garden will be around for another harvest.
“When we heard the church was closing, we were devastated,” said Sharon Lehrman, who lives across the street and has had one of the garden’s 24 plots for the past five years.
Gardening, she said, “is a fabulous stress reliever.”
“There is something very elemental and primal about playing in the dirt,” she said. “And there’s this amazing thing about growing your own food, knowing where it comes from without any chemicals.”
This year, Lehrman grew kale, beets, lettuce, Brussels sprouts and about a dozen other vegetables and herbs on her 15-by-15-foot plot. Three of the garden’s plots are set aside for use by children, and many of the gardeners donate produce to STEP, St. Louis Park’s emergency food shelf.
“More and more of the green space in St. Louis Park is getting eaten up with development,” Lehrman said. “We are very, very sad here with worry.”
Danielle Fehring has a plot in the garden and also was a member of the disbanded congregation. She said the congregation expressed to the synod a strong desire for the garden to continue, but acknowledged the synod’s right to dispose of the property as it sees fit.
“If they decide to sell it and use the dollars for other ministries, that’s their right,” she said.
Tom Harmening, St. Louis Park’s city manager, said the city would like to see the garden remain available, but hasn’t discussed it with the synod. Birchwood is one of six community gardens in St. Louis Park. Two are managed by the city, while four — including Birchwood — are managed by neighborhood associations.
“We have not had conversations with the synod about the future of that property,” Harmening said. “We would certainly support the continued opportunity to garden there; we’re very supportive of edible gardening as a means to improve health and wellness. The city has its own community garden plots and they are oversubscribed.”
Bob Hulteen, an ELCA spokesman, said the synod doesn’t plan to hold onto the property.
“We will sell it at some point,” he said. But he held out hope that the garden could be spared, and said the synod would be willing to talk to neighborhood members about its future.
“As stewards of that land now, we would certainly want to continue the commitment of that congregation,” he said.
Fehring hopes so. Her gardening has had a big effect on the family dinner table.
“My kids, it’s amazing,” she said. “They never ate vegetables before.”