Cooking Up Justice in Virginia

This is the seventh in a series of reports on initiatives funded through the budget of The Episcopal Church in its grants to Mission Enterprise Zones. Acts 8 Moment also has a series of reports on those receiving Church Planting Grants.

Moving from merely feeding people to opening the door to long term lifestyle changes is far from easy. Trinity Episcopal Church in Charlottesville, Virginia, is seeking to do just that as they tackle issues of food, health, and justice through a creative garden and kitchen ministry. Their Bread and Roses ministry seeks to transform lifestyle choices surrounding the acquisition, cooking and eating of food in an urban context. The ministry came together out of a year-long consideration in which members of Trinity studied Thomas Keller’s Generous Justice: How God’s Grace Makes Us Just. Using the book as a guide, they focused not only on the biblical foundation of justice, but also on what that justice might look in their community involvement.

“There’s not only a need to feed people, but to attempt to address some of the systemic issues behind that hunger,” said Bailey. “This ministry is really geared toward transformation, and really trying to change the way people think and relate to food. We are interested in long-term and lifestyle changes.”

One issue is that food assistance to low income families comes largely in canned food and instant soup and other non-perishable food. Not only are they poor on nutrition, but these low cost options high in sugar content which can lead to obesity, diabetes, and other health issues. Even when non-profit gardens offer mounds of fresh produce, that only works if those receiving the food know how to cook the fresh vegetables they receive.

Trinity’s Vicar, the Rev. Cass Bailey, says, “O.K., you get fresh food, but then how are you going to cook it? What ways do we need to learn and re-learn how we prepare our foods in order to get the most taste and the most nutrients from them?”

Founded in 1919 as a Diocesan mission in the historically black neighborhood of Vinegar Hill, Trinity has a history of being engaged in the community. Using a garden to better its neighborhood is a logical extension of that history. Partnering with health care professionals, farmers, and other churches, Bread and Roses uses its garden and kitchen to teach low-income residents to cook unfamiliar foods, to preserve produce so it can be eaten out of season, and to create meals that bring the family together.

In the initial phases of the Bread and Roses Ministry, Trinity raised $70,000 of the $90,000 project total to renovate its kitchen. The commercial-grade kitchen will be the hub of the project, offering a place to provide afterschool meals, as well as teach classes on cooking homegrown and farm-produced food. The church also received a $17,000 United Thank Offering grant which provided commercial equipment for the church’s kitchen.

In 2014, Trinity received its Mission Enterprise Zone Grant from the Episcopal Church to fund the second phase of the project in which a staff is hired one day a week during year one and two days a week during year two. The role of this staff person is to foster partnerships within community and oversee program development. Trinity matched the grant with funds from a diocesan Mustard Seed Grant, Region XV and three other Episcopal churches in the Diocese—Christ Church, Charlottesville; St. Paul’s, Ivy; and St. Paul’s Memorial, Charlottesville.

“One of the things we are trying to do with this effort, given our size and the scope of what we want to accomplish, we really can’t do by ourselves,” said Bailey. “We really need to rely on partnerships with other churches and community organizations. We began this ministry by really focusing on establishing those partnerships and relationships with other churches.”

By summer 2014, the garden in front of the chapel was burgeoning with raised beds of cabbages, tomatoes, greens beside the parking lot and a rock garden in the rear of the property. Benches for contemplation add to the inviting grounds. All ages, abilities of volunteers gathered at the garden on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons from 4:30-6 p.m.; Saturday mornings from 9 a.m.-noon; and Sundays after church. The church uses this garden and their kitchen to teach about food from seed to soup.

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