Gathering & Gardening: A community garden in Billings Heights

Tucked away in the Heights is a magical space teeming with life, holding the potential to bring more life and growth into the world. It is a dream realized, a beckon for community, a place that comes alive each year after the snow thaws and the days lengthen. It is The Garden, a neighborhood project started by Billings Vineyard Church.

The goal is simple. “We want to bless others and build community here in Billings,” says Allen Hodges, pastor of Billings Vineyard and overseer of The Garden. The church views this project as an extension of ministry that reaches into and enriches the Heights. The Garden provides a place to gather, grow healthy food, and spend time outdoors reconnecting with nature. “Community gardening in a way that grows community” — this is their mission.

For the past few years, this long-time dream has been implemented through building the foundation for successful growing space. Gardening plots are sectioned off and available to anyone in the community for just $15 per year, per plot. Fruit trees, a vineyard, and even some hops are in place. Plot owners are responsible for caring for a fruit tree and section of grapevine. (Don’t worry, training is provided for all gardeners to become skilled in pruning and basic care!)

An irrigation system has been implemented to keep crops vibrant during the hot, arid summer days, and a deer fence surrounds The Garden area to keep out unwanted critters. A hive of bees also inhabits the property, providing a great source of pollination for flowering plants and trees.

Planting and harvesting at The Garden means adapting organic growing standards. Any pesticides and herbicides used must be organically certified. “Caring for creation is important. Having organic growing standards is a small step we can take to promote environmental care,” says Jenna Greenwell of Billings Vineyard Church. This method of growing also ensures that drift and residue from one plot are safe for another grower’s plot nearby.

In the middle of The Garden — no really, the exact center — is a covered area with a table large enough to host a festive gathering, accompanied by a grill, fire pit, and open lawn area. “This central gathering place is symbolic and intentional,” Allen explains. “We want to create a space where people interact with each other.” Surrounding The Garden but still on the property is a half-mile walking trail meant to encourage growers to exercise and enjoy the wide-open space and fresh air. Everywhere you look, you see that The Garden is indeed built to connect the community.

Beyond the gardening and the gathering, there is an even deeper enrichment going on through The Garden. Those who reserve plots are asked to share their harvest — either on their own to friends, family, and neighbors, through an organization, or by giving it to the church to pass on to others. This passing on of abundance is meant to create a ripple effect of giving in the community. The Garden has begun an informal partnership with Independent Elementary School, with hopes to grow more educational partnerships. Classes of students come to The Garden to learn the science of growing, witnessing the blossoms and bees with their own eyes, and touching the soil with their own hands.

Lives are being touched and changed through The Garden. One of the gardeners had a brother pass away, and The Garden became a place to grieve and heal. The healing came not only through working the soil, he explained, but also through his conversations with people there.

The 2017 growing season was The Garden’s first official launch into the community, as Billings Vineyard wanted to be sure that a solid foundation was laid to optimize the experience for all who come to grow and gather. With the infrastructure in place, The Garden is now welcoming all who wish to take part to reserve plots for the 2018 season.

“The Garden is a work in progress, and all active gardeners are welcome to participate in its ongoing advancement. The dream and purpose of this project is to make our community an even better place to live, as well as to encourage new friendships and the ongoing development of supportive neighborly relationships,” Allen says.

If you’re interested in claiming a piece of this paradise to grow and harvest your fruits and vegetables this year, you can visit The Garden’s website to reserve a plot: www.thegardeninbillings.org.

Photos courtesy of Billings Vineyard Church

about the author...Anna Rogers is a transplant from the Carolinas with a background in marketing and graphic communications. She is a wife and mother who loves to garden, cook, and practice yoga. Anna is passionate about travel, which at its core is really a passion for people, as she believes people and community are what truly bring life and beauty into a place.

Originally printed in the pages of Simply Family Magazine’s May 2018 issue.

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