Community garden ministry addresses temporal, spiritual needs
CEDAR LAKE, Ind. — What might seem to some as merely an opportunity to play in the dirt, for the Holy Name community garden ministry, it is a way to bring Catholic social teachings to life in a practical way.
When Nan Onest, pastoral associate at Holy Name Parish in Cedar Lake, heard about a similar community garden project sponsored by a church in Chicago, she felt it was something the parish community might fully embrace.
"Care of the earth is one of the seven principles of Catholic social teaching and I saw this as an 'outside-of-the-box' teaching moment," Onest told the Northwest Indiana Catholic, newspaper of the Gary Diocese.
At least 12 volunteers stepped forward to help in the initial stages. That number continues to grow, according to Onest. With the blessings of Franciscan Father Ed Tlucek, pastor, a 1,000-square-foot plot of land on the parish campus was originally designated for the project. That, too, has increased, Onest said.
Vegetables, ranging from tomatoes to peppers, beans, carrots, cabbage, onions, cucumbers, radishes and assorted herbs, are being grown as organically as possible.
"Everything is more nutritious fresh out of the garden," noted Tom Lautenschlager, one of the founding members of the group.
Lautenschlager started many of the seedlings planted by the group from seed at home. Other parishioners were encouraged to pick up a packet of seeds from the back of church and do likewise.
"Think about the yield you can get out of a packet of seeds," Lautenschlager said. "This is a very inexpensive project with the potential for a high yield."
Come harvest time, the fruits of their labors were to be given to homebound parishioners and sold after weekend Masses to fund and expand the ministry.
Mercedes Austgen, Holy Name's director of religious education, hopes the ministry will also provide a valuable lesson in faith and practicality for her students.
"Jesus asked us to 'feed the hungry,' but what does that really mean?" Austgen explained. "Many of our children today don't have a clue where food comes from, other than the grocery store. There's a total disconnect.
"I hope this ministry becomes a bridge for greater understanding and appreciation," she added.
Perhaps, however, the most important mission of the group is the plan to donate much of the fresh produce to local pantries and soup kitchens that serve the needy in the area, building strong bonds and sense of solidarity in times of economic struggle.
Reminiscent of the Victory Gardens made popular in World Wars I and II, the group sees their efforts as communal in nature, a way to share resources and reach out to others.
"(Victory Gardens) bonded people as a community," said Onest. "The gardens brought people out of their isolation and showed them they were not alone."
Noting parish visits to deliver food and gifts at Christmastime, Lautenschlager said the increasing need in the southern part of the county might not be readily apparent but it's real.
"When you actually go to a residence and see families trying to survive with no heat or electricity, you know there are a lot of people who need our help," he said.
And the spiritual connection?
"I think we will come to a better understanding that our relationship to creation is not one of dominion where we control, exploit and deplete the earth's resources, but rather a focus on our responsibility to actively coax more life to come forth," said Onest.
Gardens in St. Louis
Catholic Charities agencies in St. Louis also are involved in various forms of community gardening.
City Seeds Urban Farm, for example, is an urban agriculture initiative of St. Patrick Center in St. Louis providing job training and therapeutic horticulture to individuals who are homeless and underserved.
A collaboration of several local organizations, City Seeds Urban Farm produces and distributes affordable, healthy, locally grown produce. The therapeutic horticulture program lasts 15 weeks, twice each year. It teaches clients how to grow food, improving the nutrition literacy of clients and building a strong connection to clients' recovery goals through the 12 Steps of Gardening, nature journaling, maintaining personal garden beds and working collectively at City Seeds Urban Farm. Therapeutic horticulture serves clients overcoming homelessness, mental illness, chronic addiction and/or prison release.
Catholic Charities Midtown Center sponsors a community market. City Greens is a collaboration between Midtown and local Missouri farmers started in 2009. It is run by the Midtown staff and many volunteers.
The mission of City Greens is to provide access to fresh, quality and affordable produce to neighbors, to promote healthy living in the community, and to provide space for members to interact. We recognize the importance of knowing where our food comes from and supporting local farmers as part of our extended community.
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