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South Church in Dobbs Ferry Digs for Good

DOBBS FERRY, N.Y. — South Church in Dobbs Ferry is digging up its front lawn. The church is putting in an edible, perennial, medicinal garden labyrinth. It’s part of a local movement that’s about climate change, food justice, permaculture and feeding the hungry. I participated because they have connected the project to Bill McKibben and, an organization that’s “building a global movement to solve the climate crisis.” 

May 5, 2012, was one of’s global days of action, called “Climate Impact Day.” Thousands of people all over the world went to local sites that have been impacted by the changing climate. The pictures are now available at I have worked in the climate change trenches, so I came down to Dobbs Ferry to meet the people and check it out.

What some of us forget when decrying the state of the world is that concrete steps toward a better world are made by committed people working in small, incremental local steps, consistently, over a period of time. They try different things, some work better than others, and they find people willing to work alongside them. Eight people on the church’s front lawn turning over the soil and planting young plants are one manifestation of thousands of examples all over the world.

Solving the climate crisis is a pretty tall order, and there tends to be a lot of overlap with work being done for other goals. Digging up lawns to plant gardens, a movement that has been gaining momentum over the last decade, does go some distance toward solving the climate crisis. No fossil fuels used to transport the food you grow. No petroleum-based fertilizers and pesticides, if it’s an organic garden. It encourages the eating of plants over animals (meat production has a carbon footprint as much as twelve times larger than food plants). Lawn care is an enormous energy, time and attention expense, clearly a first-world problem, and diverting those resources toward more planet-friendly endeavors can only help. Plus, there’s food justice: 10 percent of the food grown will be distributed through their own food pantry. It’s a visible demonstration of permaculture.

And it really is a labyrinth, a beautiful spiral laid out within the plantings. “People do come and walk the labyrinth,” said Kathy Dean, a quick-witted volunteer with an easy laugh. “And the kids seem to love it.” Susan DeGeorge, associate pastor for study and action, is the person to talk to about the spiritual meaning in labyrinths and the walking of them. She has helped ignite an interest in many of her congregants to take action in the community.

The creation of the edible, perennial, medicinal garden labyrinth is only a small part of what’s going on at South Church. There are 17 families getting ready to put in a garden in the back, an effort in collaboration with Cabrini Immigrant Services to grow food and learn each other’s cooking traditions. (“There’s families from Guatemala and Korea and from all over the world.”) There’s “Hungry for Change,” the monthly discussion group on food justice, and the film series. Last year they showed "Economics of Happiness," "Truck Farm," "How to Boil a Frog" and "The Last Mountain." They’re participating in a sustainable living initiative that’s chronicled in their blog, “Roots and Wings,” which is located at

The people who I met in Dobbs Ferry were clear-eyed, sincere, open and finding a way to get the work done despite the same daily life demands everyone else copes with.  I’d place them among the many thousands of unsung heroes all around the world, working to make things better. As Kathy Dean put it, she’s working, “for there to be a world for my grandson.” 

Find the South Church on the web or call them at 914-693-0473.


Paul Stark blogs about a variety of things, including local heroes and green news, at and tweets @PaulStark59.

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