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Plant City community garden celebrates fruitful year with ceremony and blessing

PLANT CITY — When a group of Plant City residents began working on a community garden a little over a year ago, they envisioned a place where people could reconnect with their food and their neighbors.

"We had an intention to have the community become a community again," said Karen Elizabeth, a certified holistic health coach and one of the garden's founders.

The group will hold a rogation ceremony at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday at the Plant City Commons Community Garden, 309 N Carey St. in Plant City, with prayers for a fruitful harvest led by the Rev. Dr. Thomas Thoeni, rector of St. Peter's Episcopal Church in Plant City.

Rogation ceremonies are part of the Book of Common Prayer for the Episcopal Church, but have their roots in an ancient pagan ritual from the fourth century, with aspects that predate Christianity.

Thoeni, who has been a priest for 14 years, learned about it in seminary, but first performed the ceremony last year after the garden opened and members asked him to perform a blessing. The ceremony is not very common, he said, because it's based on agricultural needs and priests in large urban areas wouldn't often be called on to perform it.

"It has some elements that are very Celtic in the sense of understanding land as a gift from God," Thoeni said.

The ceremony was also an ancient way of record-keeping, originating before legal records of land boundaries were kept. Part of the ceremony involves a formal march around the fields' boundaries to indicate where to plant. A prayer is said facing each direction, asking for the winds, rain and other elements needed for a fruitful harvest.

"It was very refreshing," Elizabeth said. "It kind of created another level of connectedness to the earth."

The garden has about 15 members, and they're looking for more. Some members have their own garden beds, while most contribute to the whole garden. The group meets the fourth Thursday of every month at 7 p.m. at the Bruton Memorial Library, 302 W McLendon St.

The garden is "prolific," Elizabeth said, and grows things like cabbage, tomatoes, herbs, beans, squash and flowers. They also have a beehive, and plan to plant donated pomegranate and olive trees. Members donate food from the garden to local churches and food banks.

The garden has also allowed St. Peter's to meet people in the community who aren't members of the church, Theoni said. He's enjoyed watching those connections grow right along with the vegetables.

"It's community on all grounds," he said.

Keeley Sheehan can be reached at or (813) 661-2453.