For many people, fall’s arrival signifies the onset of cooler temperatures, school-bus-filled streets and colorful foliage. This year, fall has an added significance for parishioners of St. Bridget/St. Joseph’s Church in East Bloomfield as they look forward to reaping a bountiful harvest from their new community garden.
In an early June bulletin, Sister of St. Joseph Diane Dennie, the parish’s pastoral administrator, announced plans to start a community garden. The rules governing the garden would be simple — anyone that wanted to could plant vegetables or flowers, work in or harvest produce from the garden.
Sister Dennie thought the garden would be a creative way for the parish to work together while contributing to another of the parish’s projects — the resettlement of a Somali-Bantu refugee family in Bloomfield. Members of the resettled family could help tend the garden, learning more about the types of vegetables that grow in this area while using the garden as another source of food.
“Also, it would be nice to offer (vegetables) to the traveling poor who come to the parish house for food each summer. They could work in the garden for a bit and take whatever they want,” Sister Dennie wrote in that first bulletin announcement. “Bear in mind that once something is planted, it’s there for the community. Anyone may harvest from your plants; you may harvest from anyone’s.”
A plot of land in the lawn on the church’s north side was soon earmarked for the garden, and by mid-June the area had been plowed twice and was ready for planting. Parishioner Chip White, who runs a local fruit-and-vegetable stand, planted several rows of corn in the garden, and other parishioners, including Christine Sprague, soon followed suit.
Sprague planted beans and cucumbers, making sure to put stakes up to mark the rows where seeds had already been planted. By the end of the summer, tomatoes, peppers, squash and pumpkins had also been planted in the garden, and Sister Dennie had planted a row of flowers around the perimeter of the area.
Sprague came back to the garden to weed several times throughout the summer. The bean seeds she’d planted eventually yielded more than 25 thriving bean plants. Although heavy rains washed away her cucumber plants, Sprague said she enjoyed working in the garden.
“I’ve always loved gardening, and this was a chance to share my talent with other people,” she said.
Although gardening has long been a hobby of hers, working on the community garden was unlike anything she’d ever done before. It was encouraging to see people working together and using their talents for the benefit of others, she said, noting that she’s always felt closer to God when she’s outside. That feeling was especially strong when she was working in this garden, perhaps because of the church’s proximity.
“I always got a sort of spiritual lift. It’s right near the church; you just feel that you’re almost talking to God,” she said.
Several people have come up to Sprague while she was working in the garden and told her they were grateful for the garden and the opportunity to pick fresh produce from it. Now that the vegetables are ready to harvest, more people have been stopping by the garden, Sprague and Sister Dennie said.
Over the summer Fatuma Mohamed, 21, a member of the resettled Somali-Bantu family, worked part time at the parish to gain job skills and experience. While she was there, she often worked in the garden, and was able to bring home to her family beans, tomatoes and squash, Sister Dennie said.