Mount Calvary and St. Luke’s Tend Gardens that Help the Community

How two local churches are reconnecting with the land while serving those in need.
Rev. John Lee and his son Soren planted fresh produce in a family plot at St. Luke’s.

Think back to the last time you ate an apple, peeled a potato or sliced a pepper. Did you wonder what journey it took to get from farm to store to you? When eating pineapple in the dead of winter requires just a trip to the store, it’s easy to forget where our food actually comes from. Two local churches are aiming to change that, while providing for those most in need.

St. Luke’s Presbyterian Church

Six years ago, Judy Gregg watched An Inconvenient Truth, the documentary about Al Gore’s campaign to make the issue of global warming known worldwide. For the sustainability committee at St. Luke’s Presbyterian Church in Minnetonka, the film was an inspiration. They knew they had to act, but how?

In January, 2008, a class with Terry Gips from the Alliance for Sustainability, a nonprofit based in Minneapolis, led the church to form a group focused on environmental issues. Their first priority was restoring the dry compact soil on the church’s property. “Going with the land was the most affordable way to start,” says Gregg.

Because of their focus on sustainability, the church wasn’t interested in conventional agricultural practices. They began exploring the use of permaculture design for the church’s garden. “Permaculture is a design system that looks at what nature does. It’s learning from nature,” says Gregg. “You won’t see monoculture in nature. You’ll see plants, trees, animals living harmoniously.”

Pesticides and fertilizers aren’t used in St. Luke’s garden. Instead, plants that benefit and enhance each other are purposely grouped together in what are known as plant guilds. Herbs and flowers are planted to attract beneficial insects.

All of the fruits and vegetables from St. Luke’s garden are donated to ICA Food Shelf in Minnetonka. In the first year, the garden produced 550 pounds of produce. By the third year, the garden yielded more than 1,000 pounds. Gregg attributes the growth to improved soil conditions.

But for St. Luke’s, the garden is about more than the amount of food. “We are trying not only to provide to the food shelf but to also get people connected with the land, to bring them outside,” says Gregg.

Last summer, the church hosted an open garden event and invited the community to learn about permaculture and good gardening practices. “It was a great time,” says Gregg. “The kids got involved, as well as their parents. Some of these kids and adults were astounded by what broccoli looked like growing.”

Mount Calvary Lutheran Church

Mount Calvary Lutheran Church’s garden began with a need. Four years ago, the Excelsior church started the New Friends Community Ministry, which offers a free, volunteer-run monthly meal to anyone in the community. As attendance at the meals grew, the church asked what else they could do that was connected to feeding. They decided on a garden.

Christopher Anderson, director of community outreach at Mount Calvary, spearheaded the program, applying for a grant through Hennepin County’s Gardening Matters program. They also receive support from the Mount Calvary Foundation.

Mount Calvary has donated 1,000 pounds of fresh produce from the garden to ICA over the last two years. Anything extra has gone to the New Friends Community Meal. Volunteers, including church members, Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, as well as the curious, tend the gardens. “Some people will randomly walk by and offer their help,” says Anderson.

Like at St. Luke’s, Mount Calvary staff members have observed that the garden reunites people with the land. “It’s really helpful for everyone to understand that we can take seeds and grow,” he says. “We have a resource—our people and our land. It’s not a huge resource, but we have it. It’s just another way of sharing with the community what the church is about.”


Mount Calvary Lutheran Church
301 County Rd. 19, Excelsior

St. Luke’s Presbyterian Church
3121 Groveland School Road, Wayzata