NASHOTAH — On the warm Aug. 24 afternoon, a group of parishioners and community members gathered at St. Joan of Arc Parish, Nashotah, to celebrate and give thanks for the St. Joan of Arc and St. Catherine of Alexandria garden project.
A little over two years ago the human concerns commission of St. Joan of Arc and St. Catherine in Oconomowoc joined to create a garden that would grow and supply fresh produce to local food pantries.
Kathie Leemon, garden committee chair, described the foundation of the garden as an act of food ministry. In food ministry, Leemon said, “We look at the food needs all over the world and how we might address the needs of those in lower income and the elderly.”
The mission statement of the garden committee reads, “to provide fresh and nutritious produce to the clients of local food pantries.”
Fr. Mike Strachota, pastor of both parishes, said the beauty of the project was how the parishes worked together for a common cause of serving those less fortunate.
“We are called to take care of the poor,” he said. “In this area, there is so much more hunger than people would realize in the country.”
According to Leemon, each year the garden produces up to 500 pounds of fresh produce, i.e., tomatoes, peas, zucchini, rhubarb, peppers, and strawberries. The 1,500-square foot garden also has a circular herb garden with six to seven types of herbs, and in 2015 the parishes added a separate pumpkin patch.
The garden also serves the parishes and the local community in another way. With the help of parents and educators, St. Joan of Arc School and Christian formation programs at both parishes use the garden as a teaching tool.
Holly Cerveny, principal at St. Joan of Arc School, said that early into the project, parents and teachers looked for ways to get the children involved. Children from the school and parish selected the name for the garden, appropriately called the Garden of Eat’n.
Cerveny listed numerous ways the garden has served not only food pantries, but also the students, who have performed pollination and composting projects, and have learned about the plant life cycle and healthy eating. They have also done estimation lessons by counting the seeds inside a pumpkin and math projects by learning to grid the garden.
“The Garden of Eat’n is a gift to us,” she said at the August celebration.
Nina Jakubczak, a St. Joan of Arc parent and a leader on the garden committee, saw the garden as an excellent opportunity for children in the parishes, including her son.
“Anytime you can give children real world experience and hands-on teaching, I think it’s great,” she said.
Linda Raether, a former member of St. Catherine who was instrumental in the creation and management of the garden, helped form the garden curriculum.
“This is just a living laboratory out here,” she said. “Students really embraced it. They took ownership of it.”
At the event, the garden committee was thanked and celebrated with volunteers of the Garden of Eat’n with refreshments, a blessing from Fr. Strachota and an appearance by Tonette Walker, the First Lady of Wisconsin.
After starting her brief speech saying that all she wanted to do was gush over the wonderful committee members and garden volunteers, she simply said, “Thank you for providing this garden to our community in Wisconsin.”
In his blessing, Fr. Strachota used Walker’s words to say how God gushes over everyone and God has gushed over the abundant garden. Quoting Genesis, he said the Bible’s words come to life in the act of service that the garden provides.
Leemon emphasized that the event was held to thank the many volunteers who donated their time to care for the garden. As committee member Duane Lando said, “The garden is bringing together individuals to volunteer, to get to know each other, especially the children.”