Parish garden feeds hungry, teaches children about stewardship
Amanda Hudson

.- Grub-hunting captivated most of the kids at first.

Soon, the kids made plastic bags with leaves and twigs was home to several grubs. The hunt occupied the youngsters while five University of Illinois Extension Master Gardeners and a few older children measured out paths through the newly-dug garden behind St. Bridget School on May 19. The logic behind the stake-and-twine-marked paths was to show gardeners where they could step without packing down the dirt around the vegetable plants, says Susan Richards, a parishioner and three-year master gardener.

Pretty soon Richards managed to prevail on some of the grub hunters to help plant some plants, a complicated task for the younger ones.

Teaching the youngsters how food is produced and how the food that they grow can help feed others is one goal of this new project at the parish, says Ed Lynch, a long-time parishioner and new master gardener. For about five years, Lynch had pondered the idea for a parish garden inspired by the national program for individual gardeners called “Plant a Row for the Hungry,” he says.

When he proposed the parish garden this year, “Father Burt (Absalon, pastor) said ‘most definitely’” it was a good idea, Lynch says.

“It all came together quickly in April,” says Constance McCarthy, another of the five parishioner volunteers with master gardener status. “This is a whole garden where all the produce will go to feed the hungry, in the parish as well as area food pantries. Everything in the garden is going to go (to others).”

An earlier meeting with about 25 students and some parents provided basics on tool safety, she says. During the rest of the school year, students can work in the garden with the volunteers one day a week, and in summer, Tuesdays from 3:30-5:30 p.m. is set as a regular time for gardening.

“We hope this summer to have a nice mix of families,” McCarthy says, adding that notes in the parish bulletins have asked for helpers.

Shari Armato, mother of two St. Bridget students, came to the May 19 planting session with them and their younger siblings. “I think it (will teach) the how-to’s of starting and nourishing (gardens), and the hard work involved to produce the fruits,” she says. Her own childhood work on her father’s farm brought “a sense of community to our family,” she adds, mentioning also her development of a work ethic from that long-ago gardening.

This garden will be organic, making it more safe for the kids, McCarthy says, adding that information about stewardship and taking good care of the environment will be part of the ongoing project.

McCarthy was delighted with the generosity of Cherry Valley Garden Center and Tomato World for their donation of a large variety and number of vegetable plants. Others have provided seeds, so there will be plenty of vegetables coming along to help fill a local need.

Several adults remarked that at the earlier meeting one of the children asked if once they fed all the hungry in town, then could they go ahead and feed everyone in Africa?

One 25 x 45-foot parish garden can’t meet the goal of that huge wish. But maybe this will be the beginning of bigger things.

Printed with permission from The Observer, newspaper of the Diocese of Rockford.

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