(Photo: Hell's Kitchen Farm Project)
As growing season draws near for farmers, one New York City church oversees a farm in one of the least likely places: its rooftop.
Metro Baptist Church, whose congregation moved to its present location in the Hell's Kitchen neighborhood in 1984, grows various food items on its roof for the benefit of several local food pantries.
The Rev. Alan Sherouse, pastor of Metro Baptist, told The Christian Post that the rooftop farm is part of a collaborative effort known as the Hell's Kitchen Farm Project.
"The farm project was a way to utilize our 4,000 square feet rooftop to augment our food pantry and provide another forum for education, community building, and collaboration around food justice," said Sherouse.
"As we shared the idea with partners, it became a wonderful common ground for collaboration with other neighborhood organizations and service providers. Materials reached the roof in June 2011 and we kicked off our second growing season this month."
It was in 2011 that funding was secured via the United Way of New York, which recognized the project as a part of its Urban Farming Seed Grant program.
In addition to Metro Baptist, the other three organizations involved in the project are Rauschenbusch Metro Ministries, Clinton Housing Development Company, and Metropolitan Community Church of New York.
The concept of having rooftop farms is a growing trend known as "urban agriculture." According to Sherouse, their urban farm contains a wide variety of products.
"We have grown all kinds of things, with particular success with kale, green beans, carrots, eggplants, tomatoes, hot peppers, lettuce and herbs," said Sherouse.
"We polled community members and food pantry participants before planting to find out what produce they would best utilize."
In addition to Metro Baptist's own food pantry, the produce from the rooftop farm will also go to the food pantry of Metropolitan Community Church.
"As a Christian and a pastor, I understand the gospel as both a spiritual and a social reality," said Sherouse, who considered the project to be part of the "social gospel."
"Located in the same Hell's Kitchen neighborhood as the early 20th century Baptist minister and social reformer, Walter Rauschenbusch, our church feels special kinship to his theology of the social gospel."
With April comes the second annual planting season for the Hell's Kitchen Farm Project. On its website, it lists days and times during each week for volunteers to come and help out at the urban farm.
"Our church's participation in this project flows naturally out of our understanding of Jesus' teachings and prayer that the kingdom of God – the provision, the community, the new life – come to earth as it is in heaven," said Sherouse.