Armed with soil and seeds, Catholics in blighted cities are taking social justice into their own hands.
In Camden, New Jersey a jumble of railroad tracks, freeways, and abandoned factories lace through the Waterfront South area on the Delaware River just across from Philadelphia. During heavy rains, a nearby wastewater treatment plant frequently leaks raw sewage onto the streets.
An urban exodus from Camden has left 4,000 empty lots in a 10-square-mile area; half of the houses have been abandoned. This makes the city a prime place for people to dump stuff they don't know what to do with. One day an old speedboat ended up on Broadway, one of the city's main streets. Two weeks before, a huge abandoned factory caught fire and burned to the ground.
Camden, once a thriving manufacturing center, is today better known for its crime, corruption, poverty, and urban dysfunction. It also must contend with the consequences of the industrial era: high concentrations of polluting facilities, diesel emissions, and contaminated Superfund sites (highly polluted locations the E.P.A. designates for cleanup).
Parishioners at Sacred Heart Church have been trying for years to turn things around in their neighborhood, and most recently they have focused on food.
"Food is the most basic justice issue," says Andrea Ferich, director of sustainability at the parish's Center for Environmental Transformation. "If you don't have it, what justice is that?"
Ferich and her neighbors are hoping that the plants sprouting in their city garden will bring new life to Camden. Before the land was turned into a vegetable garden, it was a trash heap amid boarded-up rowhouses. Now it features lush green growth on raised beds, a greenhouse, and a farmers market.
To turn the tide of urban decay in cities like Camden, residents
across the country have invested in backyard, community, and school
gardens in order to provide themselves with good, healthy food.
Catholics are among those creating, promoting, and volunteering in this
effort as they attempt to meet Jesus' call in Matthew's gospel to feed
the hungry and welcome the stranger. What they are finding is that
feeding people enhances dignity among the poor, promotes justice, builds
community, and offers healing. (from US Catholic magazine, October 2011 issue -- READ MORE
Author Olga Bonfiglio is a long-time OpEdNews contributor. She writes:
"Last spring, U.S. Catholic magazine decided to investigate the urban gardens movement from the standpoint of Catholic spirituality. The editors contacted me to write a story. I talked with several urban gardens program directors from across the country and wrote the following article: Urban planting: Turning blight into bounty in the inner city--which turned out to the be cover story for the October 2011 issue of the magazine!
The prominence given to these stories is significant for the urban gardens movement, which is being recognized more and more as a mainstream grassroots effort aimed at transforming our cities and overwrought national food system."