JEFFERSON CITY, Missouri — “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few,” Jesus told the crowd in the ninth chapter of Matthew. “Therefore, pray earnestly to the Lord of the Harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”
It could be said that prayers have been answered at a handful of community gardens in the Diocese of Jefferson City this past year.
Record-breaking harvests and eager green thumbs have become the norm at these three parish gardens.
For the laborers and gardeners at the Interfaith Community Garden in Columbia, Missouri, there is plenty to celebrate.
The volunteers there brought in a record-breaking harvest of 1,800 pounds of produce, which were donated to the local food pantry.
“The old record was 1,500 pounds, but everything went so well this year,” said organizer Lily Chan.
The community garden began in 2009 as a collaboration between St. Thomas More Newman Center Parish and the nearby Congregation Beth Shalom, on whose property the 60-by-70-foot garden is located.
“We began with a simple common purpose — to feed the hungry and take care of the earth by not using chemicals,” Chan explained. “Among other things we have turnips, lettuce, spinach and summer sweet potatoes.”
She added that the garden is worked by a skeleton crew of about a dozen volunteers along with several community groups from the University of Missouri, making it a true community garden.
“We have four coordinators of the garden — two from Newman and two from Congregation Beth Shalom,” Chan said. “Both congregations at Newman and Beth Shalom are very supportive of the garden.”
The roots of St. Vincent de Paul Parish’s community garden in Sedalia, Missouri, took shape due to a well-respected junior high science teacher, Barb Hagebusch.
Around eight years ago, she began a garden outside Sacred Heart School to help teach students about biology and ecology.
Precious Blood Father Mark Miller, who was pastor at that time, wanted to take the idea a step further.
“He wanted to create some raised-bed gardens near the school garden in order to raise produce for our community food pantry, the Open Door Food Pantry, in Sedalia,” said parishioner Joy Simon, who heads the gardening project.
Simon estimates the harvest has tripled in weight and in enthusiasm from its humble beginnings eight years ago.
“We now have 12 8-by-10 gardens, and in early November we topped off at around 300 pounds of produce to Open Door,” she told The Catholic Missourian, newspaper of the Diocese of Jefferson City.
“That was our last delivery, and the pantry was so happy to receive it as they do not get many greens,” she said.
Simon added that she and around 10 volunteers plant twice a year — once in April and again in August.
“We grow a lot of greens like lettuce, green beans, spinach and other vegetables such as tomatoes and potatoes, as well,” she said.
Thanks to a grant from Catholic Charities of Central and Northern Missouri, the St. Vincent de Paul gardeners were able to update their garden tools and start on a new project — a rosary memorial garden.
“We are very excited about the rosary garden,” said Simon. “It will be a stone path, with flowers along the way that will wind through the current garden. We hope to start on it in the spring.”
Whether it’s planting the green beans or planning the rosary path, one thing is certain for Simon and her crew: This ministry is a real blessing.
“I enjoy the people coming together and all the giving of time and talent,” she said. “It is something straight out of the Gospel.”
When the Bethel family vehicle pulls in to the Community Food Pantry in Marshall, Missouri, the volunteers there know blessings are coming.
As of early November, the amount of graciousness has weighed in at 1,068 pounds of produce to be given out to people in the area who are most in need.
The potatoes, tomatoes, beets, turnips and carrots have all been harvested from St. Peter Church’s community garden.
This was the garden’s first year.
“I was expecting maybe several hundred pounds, but have been blown away by how much we been able to pick,” said Jann Bethel, one of the organizers of the 40-by-80-foot plot of land near St. Peter Church.
Bethel said she couldn’t have done it without the help of her three daughters, Mabrie, Breckin and Kinseley, ages 12, 11 and 4, and fellow parishioner Al Turhan.
“Al is certainly a master gardener who taught me many things,” Bethel said. “When we had questions, he had answers.”
She added that the list was long for those who came out to help pull weeds and pick green beans over the summer. This included three volunteers from Northwest Community — a service in Marshall that helps people who have developmental disabilities.
“My girls really enjoyed working with them,” Bethel said.
The dedicated gardeners of St. Peter’s knew that God was smiling down on the garden project when a June storm inundated the Marshall area and resulted in flooding around Saline County.
The community garden at St. Peter went unscathed.
“Numerous area gardens were destroyed except for ours,” said Bethel. “We knew that we were on to something good.”
O’Neill writes for The Catholic Missourian, newspaper of the Diocese of Jefferson City.