St. Francis, How Does Your Garden Grow?

Have you seen it driving by on Leesville Road, perhaps heard about it at Mass, or even volunteered to help? The St. Francis Community Garden, next to the log cabin along Leesville Road, was the brainchild of Alice and Eric Stanford and Pat and Paul Kelly with the Care for Creation Ministry back in 2010. The Kellys offer their perspective on how this ministry has evolved and impacted the lives of so many.

“It all started with the thought that growing healthy produce for local families in need was integral to the Franciscan spirit,” stated the Kellys. Under Fr. Mark Reamer, a Povello Grant for community outreach was approved to start the garden. However, all the volunteers understood the odds were against them making the garden a lasting ministry. In fact, the last time Fr. Mark visited Pat and Paul, the first words out of his mouth were, “Is the garden still there?”

Trevor Thompson, the new leader of the Justice and Peace ministries at St. Francis at the time, had a passion for sustainable gardening. He helped with the site selection process and early networking with those who might help…and there were many. The volunteers took to calling it the “miracle garden,” because every time there was a need, the right person popped up to help out!

  • Cedar planks were needed for building garden beds to get things started on the new site, and a parish family donated the wood and built the bed frames.
  • The installation of the beds involved a dozen parishioners on a cold February morning digging deep into the clay soil and mixing it with manure and pine bark to fill up the newly installed frames.
  • Knowing little about planning a community garden, Deb Nelson, from Logan’s Garden Center, who the Kellys had just taken some garden classes with, showed up on site to help get the garden started.
  • The following year, it was determined the only way to protect the harvest was to install deer fencing. “Just before we were to do the installation,” Paul and Pat recall, “we got a call from a parishioner who had experience with fencing.” He pounded in all the stakes needed to support the fencing, and he donated a statue of Mary which still graces one of the beds.
  • Years later, a parishioner’s company made a donation that allowed the garden to double in size; and she helped with the work to enlarge the site.

Throughout the years, many good people have come to the garden and contributed their time and skills in many ways. Pat and Paul assure all of those who have contributed that they remain in the hearts of all who have built this ministry.

The ministry often hosts garden events for parishioners and other ministries to share their passion and show the success the garden has become. The Franciscan School’s students come to the garden for Earth Day and other events, and the St. Francis Preschool often makes a visit during summer camp. The parish staff help out during their fall service day, while Cardinal

Gibbons parents and students would do a workday in the garden, before COVID, and they hope to have that effort return.

For the most part, produce is donated to Interfaith Food Shuttle through Logan Garden Center’s “Plant a Row for the Hungry” program. It is through Interfaith Food Shuttle that agencies like Catholic Parish Outreach receive produce for needy families; nothing from the garden goes to waste! Last year, the garden’s harvest was 3,300 pounds, and, currently, donations are just over 3,100 pounds with still more harvesting to do; the “Garden Crew” is still planting fall crops as well! The Kellys and their volunteers are always looking for people to help out and have a well-constructed plan in place to facilitate the continued success of the garden. Some volunteers come weekly, but most come when their schedules allow, so there’s a place for all and a range of ages and abilities come to help!

From its beginnings, the garden has been deeply connected to a reverence for Care of Creation, a core Catholic Social Justice teaching. Working regularly with nature, one can’t help but be in awe of the miracle of growing, all while enjoying the gift of being together. In the garden, one finds a sacred connection between the earth and human beings…come join in!

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