St George’s Eden “Garden of Eden” Community Project

St George's Uniting Church Eden has embarked on a 10 year mission initiative called the Garden of Eden Community Project.  The church is working with the local community to develop the church grounds into a community food and cultural garden for the participation, benefit and enjoyment of all.

Latest Garden Update (May 2010)

We have installed a 24,000 litre water tank and watering system, along with solar panels on our hall. All this was achievable through receiving  government grant monies.  It allows us to be more environmentally sustainable, harvest our own water, become more water wise and reduce our reliance on the grid.

We have clad our shed with mudbricks, and the Work for Dole guys have been busy rendering and weatherproofing it.  Some church members have helped fit it out inside with recycled cupboards and benches.   Unfortunately when we recently had a huge downpour, some of the bricks collapsed, and we are holding a working bee this Saturday to replace those, with the help of some volunteers.

Our monthly local produce market has recently attracted a few new stall holders.  Although we are only small by many market standards, those who come all say they love the friendly and relaxed atmosphere.  Stevie, a local lady brings her Shetland pony, Morgan, and he has become a favourite market attraction with everyone, especially the children.  Sing Australia, our local community choir, entertain us each market with their wonderful singing.  Often Phil busks with his guitar, so it has become a popular place to sit with a cup of tea or coffee and just enjoy the music.

We have a photographic club meeting once monthly and a music group who meet every Wednesday in the hall to play music, mostly violin, and share food and company with each other. 

We have started holding World Movie nights once per month, featuring films with a social justice or environmental theme.  Our nearest cinema is 25 kms away, and our local video outlets only stock the more popular mainstream movies.  Therefore, we can offer something different to those looking for more interesting viewing, and it lessens our environmental footprint when we can all see a movie locally.  Supper is provided afterwards, and it has been a great opportunity for everyone to debrief after the movie, catch up with the local news and share community.

Our indigenous garden is well underway, and we will be working with a few of the local Koori women artists to help us in the design and planting out.

One challenge has always been to secure some new volunteers to help out with the market or on Monday's when we are working in the garden.  In a small community, many people are already on several organisations, and others are not yet ready to be involved in community volunteering, although they really enjoy what is offered.  This is something that we are still working on.

Most importantly we have provided a place of community where people feel comfortable and safe to come and share time with others.

About the Garden of Eden Community Project  

What did you do?

St George's Uniting Church Eden has embarked on a 10 year mission initiative called the Garden of Eden Community Project.  The church is working with the local community to develop the church grounds into a community food and cultural garden for the participation, benefit and enjoyment of all.  The garden includes:

  • Places for organic food growing, bush tucker, and a cob oven
  • A Semi-Circle Garden (our own “SCG”!) with local flowering natives gives a beautiful entrance to the Church and Garden
  • A mud brick shed, with our own mud bricks! 
  • A 24,000 litre water tank and watering system, along with solar panels on our hall
  • Spaces for reflection, meditation and worship
  • Arts and crafts, such as mosaics, murals and sculptures
  • Cultural heritage, such as the "Eden Heritage Garden Trail" that links with other gardens in Eden

Activities at/linked with the garden also include regular shared lunches, skills building workshops, community environmental education forums, a weekly music group, monthly photographic club meetings, monthly World Movie nights, community celebrations, and an annual "Poets Breakfast".  In 2008, we started a once monthly local produce market (is held on the 3rd Saturday of the month), and we also held a series of five “Water Courses”: Think Tanks, Soft Water, Living Water, Water World and Water Works.  These involved hands on activities, and visits to look at local creeks, garden watering systems, compost toilets, and following our water source to sewerage out fall.  We have also organised two Eden-Pambula walks, exploring our natural heritage eco-tourism potential.

Why did you do it?

A few years ago, the Eden congregation was involved in a "real meals" program working with youth to develop skills and habits for healthy and budget eating.  The church has substantial grounds, and started to think that this vacant space could be used for food growing.  At a mission planning day in early 2006, the congregation decided that it wanted to make the Garden of Eden its central mission project.  As well as providing an opportunity to care for God's creation, the congregation felt that a community garden was a way to serve and build relationships with the local community in a new way, particularly with marginalized people such as those who are isolated or unemployed.

How did you do it?

A variety of funding sources (and the people who have prepared the funding applications!) as well as donations have made the activities at the garden possible.  These sources have included:

  • Uniting Church ABC Appeal
  • Uniting Church Board of Mission New Initiatives Seed Funding
  • Federal Government Fisheries Assistance Grant
  • Federal Government Volunteer Assistance Grant
  • Federal Government Water Tank Grant
  • Bega Valley Shire Council grant
  • Mumbulla Foundation grant
  • Canberra Region Presbytery (UCIF) grant
  • Wishing Well (South East Fibre Exports and The Magnet)
  • The Eden Lioness’ Club

A paid worker coordinates the project one day a week, and the garden relies heavily on volunteer support.  Extensive community consultation has helped the church to develop good working relationships with individuals and community groups outside the church.

Who is involved?

About 40 people in total participate directly in the project:

  • About a third of the people (7 to 8) from the Eden Congregation are actively involved, and the rest are supportive of the project.
  • About 20 people participate in food growing.
  • A local artist coordinated mosaic projects.
  • School children have also been involved in painting murals.
  • In partnership with Mission Australia, the garden provides work placements for unemployed people.
  • Through the heritage walk collaborative project, the congregation is working with people from four other gardens in Eden.

How much did it cost?

Project costs have been covered by grants and donations (see above) and St George’s Uniting Church.

What problems did you have and how did you overcome them?

The biggest "problem" has been learning how to step out in faith as a result of not knowing exactly what the end result will be; being prepared to change direction and adopt new ideas for the project; having to trust the Spirit for solutions to the inevitable problems; and re-educating ourselves about what mission is about.  This stepping out in faith has primarily been learned through practical experience, of becoming aware of developments that can only be described as spirit inspired.  Part of this has been learning to be patient and not to sacrifice good community development processes in the interests of meeting project targets.

What is the outcome?

The Garden of Eden Community Project is discovering ways in which a church can contribute to community development.  The project nurtures and protects the natural environment; it builds skills for local people; it helps people to develop social networks and participate in and contribute to their local community; and it provides opportunities for artistic expression and for faith sharing.  The Garden of Eden Community Project is experiencing how "from little things, big things grow", and that sometimes they grow in wonderful ways that you don't expect!  For example, a Narcotics Anonymous group started meeting at the church, all because one member participated in the garden project and felt it was a safe place to meet.  In 2008, we were awarded a NSW Illawarra Region Sustainable Community Garden Award.  And now, we have become a link to the Transition Town movement, and are the hub to initiate and promote activities in Eden.  It will be wonderful to see where the Spirit might lead the project in its remaining years and beyond.


St George’s Eden Uniting Church website: