WDAY: The News Leader

Published August 01, 2013, 11:15 AM

3 faiths find common ground gathering food in ND

MANVEL, N.D. (AP) — Two dozen people from three faiths which look back to Eden as the place people first walked this earth, together worked through the green rows of a garden here on a warm evening late last month, harvesting food for the needy.

By: STEPHEN J. LEE,Grand Forks Herald, Associated Press

MANVEL, N.D. (AP) — Two dozen people from three faiths which look back to Eden as the place people first walked this earth, together worked through the green rows of a garden here on a warm evening late last month, harvesting food for the needy.

In a project organized by the Rev. Keith Mills, members of B'nai Israel synagogue and the Grand Forks Islamic Center joined Christians from three churches in picking beans and peas.

They will donate the veggies to the St. Joseph food shelf and the Northlands Rescue Mission in Grand Forks.

But it's about more than just feeding the hungry.

"Anytime you have the synagogue and the mosque and the church working at the same thing, that's no small matter," Mills told the Grand Forks Herald (, taking a break to watch beans being picked by many hands.

He is pastor of Zion Congregational Church in Manvel and United Church of Christ in Grand Forks and has "galvanized" such joint efforts among people of disparate faiths in the community, said Victor Lieberman, president of the synagogue.

The vegetables are grown by Daryl Bragg, a member of Zion and a retired school administrator who owns Bellevue Gardens here along a curve in the Turtle River, where his family goes back generations. He sells tomatoes in the Manvel gas station, and to several customers in Grand Forks and to the Amazing Grains Food Co-op, while keeping the weeds and deer out of the garden.

But he likes giving them away, too, it's clear.

"I picked those peas last night, so you won't find many there," he told a few volunteers, directing them to the other end of the rows.

Katie Canty, part of B'nai Israel, brought her sons, Adam, 4, and Matthew 1, to help harvest.

"Let's go," said Adam, pounding his gloved hands together. Matthew soon nearly disappeared in the rows.

One of the many stories Jews, Christians and Muslims share from their scriptures is the story of God putting people in the first garden.

After that, there are many things the three faiths don't see quite the same.

But that doesn't mean people of good faith can't work together, said Lieberman, mentioning the walk against hunger these same congregations held last September.

"To the extent we can interact in non-confrontational ways, I think, is very valuable to all," he said. "To find commonalities, we don't have to agree religiously."

"It's not that we are trying to do interfaith things," Lieberman said. "That's not our motivation. But what motivates us to participate in religious organizations also motivates us to do things like this. We want to provide food for the hungry. We want to do things in our community, like the march against hunger, and other activities that have nothing to do with religion . that we all can agree on. And I think we can do more."

Nabil Suleiman, president of the Grand Forks Islamic Center which includes a mosque, said the vegetable picking also promotes "growing our food locally."

"It's a small project, it's not going to feed everybody, but hopefully we can catch the moment with time, it can become something that can affect our local economy in a positive way," Suleiman said.

The cooperation itself is a good work, said the Rev. James Shannon, rector of St. Paul's Episcopal Church in downtown Grand Forks.

"It has opened up a lot of opportunities to visit and that, obviously, was a positive. It brings people of different cultures and different religions together with the ability to work together on things where we do have commonalities. And it encourages us to not judge others and to learn to respect the differences. It's been a real positive experience, learning about Muslims and Jews, and even learning about the UCC and some Lutheran groups. We tend to stay in our own little groups, and it takes some effort to branch out."

The congregations led by Suleiman and Mills used the same building for several years in Grand Forks.

"There are some churches or some faiths who still do not accept us," Suleiman said. "But we promote tolerance here. And we would like everybody to be on the same page. There always will be differences between people, not only between different faiths, but even within the same family, you have different opinions. But that doesn't mean we should leave whatever we can do together, something good that we can agree on, to leave it because we have some differences."

The evening picking party accommodated the Muslims' observation of Ramadan, the month of prayer and fasting, broken at sunset each day with a meal.

Mills said this garden could become a growing trend.

The congregations help defray the costs for Bragg, who said he keeps the five-acre garden for something to do, not the bottom line.

"I'll do it every year if they want to," he said.