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With a few simple fixes and strategically placed rain barrels, the Church of the Holy Nativity has been able to divert thousands of gallons of water to irrigate crops at its community garden in Westchester.

When the church began the community garden in 2008, “it made the water we receive both from above and from fog and off the ocean even more valuable because it’s like food,” according to the Rev. Peter Rood, rector.

“We live by the ocean here, and on a foggy night if you’re next to any of the downspouts you’ll see the accumulation of water moving its way down the gutters to the downspouts,” Rood said.

So they came up with a plan to capture it to water crops.

The water moved “from the roof to the ground or onto the concrete or blacktop or patio areas,” he said. From there, “it was going out the driveway most of the time, or even on the lawn because of the pitch of the property,” eventually making its way back to the ocean.

Which got him thinking: “Why don’t we hold onto the resource we’ve been given? That’s the permaculture message.”

So, they rerouted it.

Preventing water waste

“Throughout the campus downspouts have been converted away from the driveways and hard surfaces where the water runs out to the ocean,” he explained. Using 8-inch PVC piping, “we’ve rerouted it back to garden beds where there’s food.

“In some instances, where we don’t really have a bed, we’ve placed 50-gallon rain barrels and a 1,200-gallon cistern,” he added.

It’s a water conservation method, Rood explained. “We’ve estimated that with average rainfall, out of one downspout alone we get about 4,000 gallons of water that before we did this conversion went down the driveway and out to the ocean.”

When planting five fruit trees near the parish hall, they used permaculture design principles to determine the pitch of the land, and to place the trees in the water’s directional flow, “which is wise, because you don’t really want it pooling against the foundation,” Rood said.

They also built an earth berm, contouring the soil just below the eaves of the parish hall so “what was the low side is now the high side. It becomes like a natural mud wall, essentially … so that when the water comes off the roof, it hits the berm and stays right at the base of the fruit trees and root system of the trees.”

Holy Nativity’s community gardeners also water by hand the 4,000-square-feet of growing area and edible landscaping, foregoing automatic sprinklers that might increase waste.

“There are no pipes that are pumping water out and no automatic systems that are kicking and clicking,” Rood said. “What we do is go and stick our finger in the soil and if it needs watering, we do.”

He added that: “It teaches something important to people, that is when you water, water consciously. You say, ‘I’m not just going to throw water at an area. You use a nozzle and spray of water pretty strategically, so you place it near the root system, down close to the plant and water it deeply instead of throwing water at a general area.

“We try to treat water as it is, a very valuable resource. We don’t realize how valuable it is until we’re threatened with citations during droughts.”

‘Paying attention’ in Lent and beyond

It is about simply paying attention, he added.

“Our 4,000-square-feet depends on having this resource properly managed in order to have optimum yield for our food,” which is mostly donated to a local food bank. An equivalent is like making sure we have communion wine. It has that kind of value … and it’s been a meditation in some sense, just paying attention.

Holy Nativity parishioners have also been encouraged to undertake a carbon fast as a Lenten spiritual practice, he added.

“We’re asking folks to pay attention to how long they take showers, for example. And how they’re watering in their own households, and using water in general,” Rood said.

For example, rather than boil water in an open pot, put it in a kettle instead. “Just that difference makes a difference ultimately in water usage.”

“We’re just asking everyone to do all those things that amount to proper and necessary conservation efforts Christian people should be doing,” he added.

“We should be leading the way, the trailblazers, because it’s our understanding that we are earth dwellers and God has given us this amazing planet Earth to live on. And that we’re made up of water, made up of that soil, so all the more reason we should care for it and treat it as if we were one with it.”