Year-Round Gardens Mean Better Health

News-&-Needs-Winter-2018-(1)-1Greenhouse-Main.jpgA greenhouse may seem like a simple thing, but it means fresh vegetables in winter, jobs, and increased opportunity for one diocese in the country of Georgia.

Poti, on Georgia’s west coast along the Black Sea, is one place where despite a favorable climate, farming families often struggle to produce enough food for their needs. Not everyone is trained in the work or in the agriculture industry’s latest developments. But there is great potential for growth, as Georgia has seen rising demand for local produce.

In the village of Akhalsopheli, in the Eparchy of Poti and Khobi, IOCC Project Manager Zaza Matcharashvili saw an opportunity to help local farmers while expanding the local Orthodox Church’s ability to serve the community. The Georgian diocese runs a soup kitchen there under His Grace Metropolitan Grigoli of the Georgian Patriarchate, and a nearby stretch of land has geothermal springs just beneath the surface. Matcharashvili envisioned a yearround garden that would take advantage of this natural formation and improve the variety of foods in the soup kitchen. A generous landowner donated the land to the Patriarchate, expressing strong support for IOCC’s project—a testament to the respect that many Georgians have for the Orthodox Church.

In 2017, four low-cost greenhouses (the first of their kind in the region) were built atop the geothermal formation, their frames of curved metal piping covered in heavy plastic. Instead of purchasing preformed frames at market price, Matcharashvili and IOCC consultant Dragan Terzic built a small machine to bend ordinary pipes. This approach has proved particularly sturdy, as well as inexpensive, saving money that can be applied to extending the work to another site.

Inside the Church’s greenhouses, heated by the naturally hot water, tomato plants are flourishing, even in the dead of winter. After a year of training and working alongside IOCC, the Church will have full charge of the project, and the greenhouses will be self-sustaining; produce that is not used can be sold at market, providing steady income for the Church and supporting its service in the community. According to Matcharashvili, “The greenhouses help the community understand the benefit of extending the growing season. It’s more profitable to have a greenhouse than to keep cows, for example.” They also provide jobs for locals who have found work in the year-round gardens. Area clergy are training to manage greenhouses, and the project inspired a group of young adults to explore building greenhouses in their community. Further, the project serves as a model for additional Church greenhouses in other dioceses, potentially expanding the project to benefit even more families.

The greenhouse project combines simple materials, a bit of ingenuity, and a natural geothermal formation to make successful gardening possible beyond the natural growing season. Reliable access to healthful food vastly improves health and well-being, and the project has not only increased the Church’s capacity but has also provided a framework for sharing knowledge with local farmers, clergy, and the next generation about the benefits of growing their own produce.

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