“We saw this big piece of land and we thought, it’s just sitting there not being used. Pretty much everyone thought we were crazy,” says Judy Dickieson, longtime resident of Balfour, British Columbia.
Now, years later, Judy looks over the community garden they’ve built and sees how far they have come.
“It was a bed of rocks. We decided this is what we should be doing, growing food for the neighbourhood.”
Serving Others and Tending the Earth
Balfour Covenant Church is big on serving the community. One of the church’s couples, Rick and Judy Dickieson, contribute by putting their hands in the dirt every single day in the church garden.
“That’s one of the goals of our church, is to be involved in the community and assist in whatever way we can,” says Rick.
Rick and Judy, 28-year Balfour residents, are what you would call long-time church members and were involved in starting up and building the church, thought up in 1997, with the brand new church opening in 2001.
A decade later, in their new building, Rick and Judy dreamed of building something more on the property. In 2013, the garden goal was underway.
“We had a lot of help that came in. Various people assisted with the start of it,” says Rick.
Using some soil, and adding compost, manure and straw, the team built the garden beds from the ground up. In 2014, they were ready to plant the first beds with fruits and vegetables. From its outset, their goal for the garden was to provide food to area food banks and Balfour residents in need.
“The need out there is pretty high. There is a whole segment of our population that is barely making it through. Quite often they’re very silent. There are a lot of people that are struggling, so it’s important that we deal with that,” says Rick. The food grown in the garden provides nourishment to community members struggling to make ends meet.
“We are very invested in our community, and we do whatever we can to help people,” Judy says.
Judy, the gardener, is in the garden several times a day, which is easy because the couple lives across the street from the church. She also works in the church daycare. Rick is a self-described “project guy” and he put a drip irrigation system in the more than 60 garden beds.
“We just don’t waste any water, and it’s quite efficient. It’s really good,” says Judy.
Rick and Judy know a lot about pulling weeds, and they always look at the bigger picture.
“Even the compost, the things that we think aren’t useful, that we are going to throw away, you can just pile them up and then turn into soil. Stuff that’s negative in our lives, we can turn it around and build something good,” she says.
The garden receives donations of seeds and plants from supportive community members and businesses.
“It works really well. We haven’t had to budget money. It’s mostly just donations, and then four or five years ago Rick started growing garlic. We accept donations for the garlic, that’s our fundraiser,” says Judy.
“That’s our cash crop,” jokes Rick.
Judy has liked pulling weeds since she was a kid helping her dad who grew beans at their home in Oregon. She loves thinking about new life coming from a seed as she’s in the garden, and she teaches the children at the daycare about this connection, too.
“We’re to tend the earth and be stewards of it,” she says.
Get Outside and Pray
For Balfour Covenant Church’s Pastor Jason Ashley, the nature in the area is part of what drew him to live here. He connects to the world outside where he lives and works in Balfour. He finds fulfillment living on a lake in the mountains, where the opportunities for hiking, mountain biking and backcountry skiing with his family are endless.
“Most days, I go for a walk and think about life or my sermon or pray. It’s a pretty big part of my life. Maybe more to me than to most. I live here on purpose because I love this place, but also I love to spend time outdoors. I’m grateful that part of my vocation requires time to walk and to think about creation.”
Jason began his Kootenay adventure in 2009. He was working in Vancouver in youth ministry when he heard that Balfour Covenant Church was looking for a pastor.
Fast forward 12 years and Jason and his wife practice their faith in all parts of their lives in the area–Tracy is Nelson Community Christian School’s principal. She previously worked as a homeschool coordinator for local families.
Jason and Tracy have two boys, Korban, age 13, and Shalem, 10. They are in the process of adopting 9 and 8-year-old biological sisters, who will hopefully be joining the family next year.
For Jason, taking care of the earth is a fundamental part of the way his family lives. This care comes from lessons learned from the Bible.
“God created humanity and charged them with taking good care of it. Some of my brothers and sisters do that well. They read that text, and they think we have a responsibility to care for the creation, this earth.”
On the other hand, some people of faith take a reactionary perspective regarding caring for where we live. Jason sees this as resulting from the division into left and right, or liberal and traditional ideas, with liberal being for caring for the natural world and traditional being against. He advises his community against reactionary thinking when it comes to caring for creation.
“You can disagree with someone politically and still agree that creation is good and we should take good care of it. I preach in our church: let’s step outside of the political polarization that has started the last couple of decades and remember that as Christians, God has created this place, and he’s called it good. He has charged us to take good care of it. Not to abuse it. I encourage our church family to care for God’s creation.”
Caring for the little corner of the earth where we live is a shared value across many religious and spiritual beliefs. Having clean water to drink and clean air to breathe and good food to eat is a desire we all share.
The church has donated food from the garden to people who live in a 20 unit housing complex in Balfour since COVID.
“It’s been better because we’re doing more local distribution of food,” Judy explains.
Rick adds, “Last year we had a lot more local folk who would drop into the garden and pick what they needed. That worked well. It’s getting used.”
Fruit Grows in the Valleys
Community is everything when it comes to getting through life’s highs and lows, or like Pastor Jason sees it: “Fruit grows in the valleys of life.”
Gardener Judy feels the same way about living in Balfour.
“This is a really great community. They’re just really supportive. I’m really impressed with the people that live around here and their willingness to come and help.”
Rick says, “It’s really important to be thinking positively. The weeds grow everywhere in our lives, but we’ve got to be pulling those weeds.”
Pastor Jason is grateful that he lives here and is thankful for his community.
“I am really grateful for this Balfour community. I have good friendships with people. I’m grateful for this place. For this community and for these people.”