My Ministry: The Little Veggie Patch builds bridges to the community

The veggie patch.

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The BEST Disability Support van pulls up in the Springwood church carpark in front of the Little Vege Patch. It’s Tuesday morning. Ten or more excited young people with disabilities get out. As soon as they see Roger, they smile, call his name, and some come and give him a hug. What is this all about? 

Garden coordinator, Roger Henley.

Some 4-5 years ago Roger Henley was talking with his friend from college days (Avondale University), who lives now in California. This friend was sharing how community gardens have been a success in many churches there. The local community comes in and are interacting with church members. Since there was an unused section of level ground down at the back of the Springwood church property, Roger suggested to the church board that a community garden could be built there. The church and ADRA Logan drew up a plan to collaborate in this venture. As a certified “Work for the Dole” provider, ADRA Logan was able to use the skills of Work for the Dole participants to work in the garden, to help build fences, garden beds, a shade house and a propagation house. 

When the manager at ADRA Logan at the time, Henk La Dru, handed Roger plans to build a rotunda, Roger called on a few of his mates from church who had building skills to help.

One unemployed horticulturist came to do some work in the garden and called it “Work for the Dole Heaven”. She then proceeded to introduce Roger to people in the local council’s community development team. They were very impressed with the Little Vege Patch.

Skilling Queenslanders For Work trainees, hosted by ADRA Australia, also came to work at the Little Vege Patch to help them complete their studies as part of their training. At times, there are young people doing the training who have just been released from prison. 

“It is giving people an opportunity to do something to better themselves, to take another step in the right direction. Many have moved on to get another job, which is a big win as far as I’m concerned,” says Roger with a look of satisfaction. More engagement from people in the surrounding community would also be very welcome.

The garden also has a multicultural influence. An Indigenous Australian and his two daughters decided to paint one of the benches with a traditional pattern. The fence artwork was done by some of the BEST Disability group. I discovered that BEST is an acronym for Believe Evolve Succeed Together. This encapsulates well the ethos of this beautiful organisation and could well be key words to sum up the vision of the Little Vege Patch community garden initiative as well.

The benches were painted with a traditional Indigenous Australian pattern.

Where previously an uninviting area with high grass existed, there is now an inviting, tidy and colourful place. New plants have been planted and seeds sown. Some young people who first came through the BEST program couldn’t even hold a rake in their hands; now they have learned new skills by planting and watering plants and enjoying each other’s company as they do something useful. 

Recently in a Logan newspaper, Councillor Lisa Bradley wrote an article about this community garden and spoke highly about it. “Through this program, it helps to generate employment for many of the trainees involved”, she wrote.

With Roger’s background as a hospital chaplain and pastor, he has this tremendous ability to take people as they are and build trusting, non-judgemental relationships. Roger states, “Although this is not an evangelistic tool, this is church. This is Christianity in action.”

Kristiina Somerville is the communication secretary at Springwood church in Queensland. 

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