Monday, July 8, 2013

By Way Of Garden: The Interview

I have been so excited to share this Spirit Launcher story with you all, and the time has finally come.  The Spirit Launcher I am introducing to you is the very inspiration behind my own website.  I was thinking seriously of starting a blog in order to share my writing, but I didn't want my blog to be like anything else out there.  I wanted it to show the spirit of who we are to inspire us all to live our best life now.  Sara's story came to me from a dear friend who had met her and experienced her wonderful creation himself.  As I was thinking about her story the following morning, the name Spirit Launcher came to mind.  Then the thought of interviewing people who were living in their own creative process and purpose was the very guide that kicked off this website.  So I won't delay anymore in sharing Sara's beautiful story.

Sara Stewart is the founder and creator of The Unity Gardens in South Bend, Indiana.  The first of its kind, Sara has since 2008 created and inspired fifty six gardens in northern Indiana.  The concept, free organically grown food available to anyone.  Sara's journey began as a Registered Nurse working in community health.  She cared for patients who live in poverty.  Her purpose of understanding that everyone deserves to live a healthy life inspired her as she was driving down the street one day thinking, "Wouldn't it be wonderful if we had trees along side the streets that people could just pick apples as they needed.  No strings attached and no questions asked.  No one would ever go hungry." This continued to be a nagging thought of inspiration that wouldn't go away.  Sara knew she needed to pursue whatever this idea was calling her to do.

Sara thought about this concept for awhile, until one day she began talking to her homeless patients about the concept of starting a garden in their area that would provide free food that they could come and go whenever and take whatever it was that they needed from the garden.  Her patients agreed that would be something they would benefit from and needed in their community.  Through her relationships with the homeless, her patients began to not only be intrigued by the idea, they started to open up and share memories of gardening they had as children and what having a garden would mean to them.  One man shared with her memories he had as a child of gardening with his grandmother and growing potatoes. Another man stated, "I can taste the greens right now!"

Sara went home that night after having the conversations with these two men and thought to herself, people that live in the culture of poverty often times don't reflect on their past with fond memories. And they certainly don't look forward to the future with plans and hope. But the thought of this garden had inspired them to do just that. "It occured to me at that point that this was so much more than just a garden."

With the obvious nay sayers, in the beginning people questioned Sara's concept. "It was difficult to get people to understand the concept of free food. And that everyone would be welcome to it," stated Sara.  She wanted the garden to be centered in the most impoverished of areas.  Solely because that was where it was needed the most.

Sara came from a gardening background. She had been gardening her entire life.  Her grandfather was an herb gardener who had written several books on herbs. Her family has a long line of passionate gardeners.  Sara's vision was taking that passion to a new and life changing level.

With the help of her family members and friends Sara began her first garden in 2008.  At first people would drive by or walk by the garden as they were working and would just stare.  Over time people then started to wave as they would pass by.  Then things started to change to where people were stopping and asking about what it is they were doing.  People changed in their attitudes and became curious as to how they could help. 

July 28th, 2008 Sara's Unity Garden had a full picture two page spread in the Sunday Tribune that spread the voice of her mission and launched its ever rising success to this day.  The community began to call The Unity Garden their garden.  People started stepping up and donating their time, materials and food to the cause.  It brought people together near and far.  It in fact united culture and community to become one in a new community.  No one was excluded.  Everyone shared the same mission.

The first setback in Sara's plan was they had started the garden in an area without a water source. "It was such a rookie mistake for such experienced gardeners!" Sara stated.  So day after day Sara and her fellow gardener's would trek gallons of water back and forth.  Then the hot and dry month of August hit and all of the vegetables were shriveling from the heat.  Something had to give or all of this hard work would be lost.  Feeling discouraged and needing a plan, Sara looked and saw over the horizon cascades of water just pouring down.  She discovered the water was coming from two blocks down at an excavation site of another business.  She walked down and asked if she could tap into their water source.  The men stated she would have to ask the owner of the business.  So she did just that and the owner said yes.  One week later the city of South Bend opened up a fire hydrant for a water source for the garden.

After the creation of the first garden, on the East side of the city the Green House Garden was established.  The vision of having families gathering at the dinner table eating healthy food and neighbors reconnecting was the concept behind this expansion. In 2009, there were twelve gardens all together which is where The Unity Gardens came to life.  "The vision as a whole for The Unity Gardens is to grow abundance," Sara stated. "And then out of that abundance comes sharing.  To grow a ton of food for everyone to have access to healthy food was what it was all about.  By 2012 we had fifty gardens.  This year, we now have fifty six gardens.  Throughout St. Joe County, we have gardens at homeless shelters, churches and schools all growing Unity Gardens." 

"The really great thing that came about all of this was common ground.  This was a place where all diversities young and old, different ethnicities could come together and be together.  They can meet each other and become neighbors while finding solutions and finding a new way to be a community.  In this virtual world we live in, we often times don't get an opportunity to be together and this was the common ground that did just that.  The mission behind all of this is to improve community health physically, socially and through economic revitalization.  Creating access to healthy food sources, creating an environment of education through learning how to eat well and also grow food sources. Socially creating an environment of learning to be of service to one and all. It also is creating social capital with internships for the disadvantaged to create opportunities that otherwise wouldn't have existed."

What makes The Unity Gardens different from a community garden?
"With community gardens, people get together and garden for themselves.  It's a wonderful thing.  With Unity Gardens, a group of people come together and garden for everybody.  That is the difference.  It is based on sharing first.  I get it out there right in the beginning that this is a hand out.  It is food for those who are hungry.  However, once you feed the hungry then people can start concentrating on higher levels of activity for those who would have been oppressed otherwise.  There are two criteria for each Unity Garden.  The first being diversity. Diverse people coming together to grow food.  The second is sharing. The food is shared.  In our gardens people can come and harvest what they want.  They don't need to ask permission, it is simply theirs to have.  It is all about awareness, accessibility and availability."

How do you maintain all fifty six gardens and growing?
"Well we don't work in all fifty six gardens.  What we do though is teach.  We teach over two hundred classes a year on growing gardens, cooking, and nutrition.  Now more than that, we do bee keeping, urban chickens, aquaponics, hydroponics, composting everything in connecting people with healthy food from the ground to the mouth.  One thing we are excellent at is creating community awareness and the benefits to what all we do.  We have thirteen fundraising events a year.  This is where tons and tons of people connect through their passions whether it is a church picinic, camp, or art. We provide having safe and healthy gathering areas.  We have a luau coming up on July 13th where we'll have a cook out etc."

What are your future plans for The Unity Gardens?
"I've had inquiries in five other states for expansions. We have a 2014 project where we go in and install a vegetable garden right in someones backyard. The cost they pay for that will also go to funding another person in need to have a garden in their own yard.  Another dimension of connecting people to healthy food."

What do The Unity Gardens represent?
"As a whole The Unity Gardens represents a place of sharing for community.  It is about us sharing our passion and inspiring others to do the same no matter what that might be.  If we can spread our passions through sharing we can help each other grow."

Thank you Sara for sharing your incredible story! You are a living example of how taking action on your passion can ignite a chain of events that will lead to a better today and a more empowered tomorrow! For more information on The Unity Gardens and how you can help go to

As always with love,


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