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placeholder Parish garden flourishes to feed the hungry

New pastor for St. Agnes Parish in Concord

• Service, justice permeate St. Mary’s curriculum
• Students undergo life changes while ‘living dangerously’

Oakland bishop applauds, inspires pro-life teens

High school pro-life leaders talk about their commitment

Pastoral Plan report shows implementation progress

Volunteers needed to help with organ pipes delivery

CCOP joins Global Solidarity Initiative

Prayer service calls for end to hatred of immigrants

• Sister Mary Anselm Beardsley, OP
• Sister Marie Jordan Beausoleil, OP

placeholder September 21, 2009   •   VOL. 47, NO. 16   •   Oakland, CA
LEFT: Melissa Wilson and Sierra Rodriguez look for ladybugs in the vegetable garden at St. Anne in Byron, August 16. RIGHT: Kenny Lee, a master gardener, harvests some of the squash growing in his parish’s garden. The produce will be donated to the St. Vincent de Paul Society.
Greg Tarczynski photos
Parish garden flourishes
to feed the hungry

Before the month of September is over, St. Anne Parish in Byron will have donated over 1,000 pounds of fresh fruit and vegetables to its local St. Vincent de Paul Society to feed hungry families in East Contra Costa County. The prolific bounty — which includes cantaloupes, squash, egg plants, watermelons, corn, tomatoes, cucumbers and peppers, — is the result of a new gardening ministry spearheaded last January by parishioner Bob Sanocki, a self-described “casual gardener.”

Father Ron Schmit, pastor of St. Anne Parish in Byron, blesses produce from the parish garden.
Greg Tarczynski photo

The seeds for this first parish garden in the Oakland Diocese sprouted last winter after St. Vincent de Paul volunteers Karen Randle and Bob Van Slambrook reported a large upsurge in requests for food at the church and the Brentwood Community Center, the local food distribution headquarters for St. Vincent de Paul.

The food needs of so many hard-pressed people — now up to 350 per month — prompted Sanocki to ask his pastor, Father Ron Schmit, if the parish could start a garden on some of the church’s vacant land around its community life center. Father Schmit gave his blessing and put Sanocki in charge.

Sanocki immediately called together a gardening committee. “We started with absolutely no money,” recalls Randle. The situation changed as members came up with fund-raising efforts and public pleas for help. A Sees candy sale brought in $1500 towards an irrigation drip system, tools and wood for the garden plots. The St. Vincent de Paul Society contributed $300 and the Knights of Columbus supplied another $500.

When Sanocki and his team called for gardening volunteers, enough individuals came forward to tend 32 raised bed plots. The group also put in 30 15-gallon fruit trees. Parishioners were invited to purchase the lemon, lime, apple, cherry, apricot, orange and peach trees as memorials to family members. The effort raised $4,000, said Randle, the daughter of a North Dakota farming family who served as the tree project supervisor. First fruits of the trees will be ready next spring.

St. Anne’s gardening ministry has two goals — to share food with the needy and to educate children and adults in the science of gardening, explained Van Slambrook, a St. Vincent de Paul volunteer.

Randle said volunteers are donating between 50-75 percent of their weekly yield to feed the hungry. They take the remaining produce to feed their own families. To make sure there is enough food for the 350 Vincentian clients, the gardening team fills in with corn and tomatoes they personally purchase from local farmers each week.

Randle has two more methods for collecting food. She cruises the area for fruit trees and gardens, stops her car, and then boldly asks the owners for donations. She also gleans farm produce that has fallen to the ground and will not be harvested — just as people in Biblical times did. “We’re not shy,” she said.

The team has invited the gardeners to bring their children to help dig, plant, water and harvest. So far, about 10 youngsters ranging from two to 17 are showing up with their parents. “They’re getting such a kick out of picking and tasting,” Randle said.

Father Ron Schmit, pastor, considers the parish garden “a wonderful way to feed the poor by bringing them fresh fruits and vegetables” — items which they’d never be able to afford at the supermarket. At another level, he said, “the garden is bringing generations and communities together to reconnect people to the earth in this age of global warming.”

Asked if he is among the 32 garden plot tenders, Father Schmit replied “no,” but that’s only because the busy pastor already has his own rectory garden to take care of.


The garden, seen here during the Aug. 16 dedication service, fills a large plot of parish land. The area was once used for farming.
Greg Tarczynski photos

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