Parish reaps rewards of garden project

Published October 1, 2006

Rob Kennedy, a volunteer with the Out of the Heat garden project at St. Thomas’s Church, Toronto, shows off bunches of carrots. Mr. Kennedy, who helped design the garden, said the harvest is “pure joy.”

It is remarkable how much goodness can sprout from a few seeds sown in good ground and in good faith.

Behind St. Thomas’s Church, Toronto, a once-bedraggled patch of grass blossomed into a lush garden this summer, producing ripe vegetables for the parish’s Out of the Heat program. After a hectic spring of designing, building beds and planting, the garden soon began yielding radishes, lettuce, snow peas, beans, carrots, beets and zucchini in abundance. A great crop of tomatoes followed and then, in time for stirring up hearty fall soups, the cabbage and squash.

The idea of an urban community garden supplying the Out of the Heat program was initially proposed by Suzanne Brooks, a parishioner who is pursuing a master’s degree in planning at the University of Toronto (U of T). “Our harvest follows a field-to-table approach,” explains Ms. Brooks. “Vegetables are picked and washed on Thursday evenings or Friday mornings, ready for distribution at the Friday evening Out of the Heat program.” During their meal, guests are invited to pick up bags of produce to take away. “The program is very popular,” says Ms. Brooks, who will be writing her thesis on the project. About 75 people regularly attend – 40 of whom take away vegetables, and, says Ms. Brooks, “We never have leftovers. Guests often ask questions about upcoming crops and our growing and harvesting methods. I have found them to be discerning, interested and very appreciative.”

And it’s not just the crop that’s growing. “One of the best things is the way the garden has brought together people in the parish,” says Ms. Brooks. A roster of ready-and-willing volunteers weeded and harvested all summer. Members of the church school dug into the dirt early on, planting their very own radishes. Fellow parishioner Rob Kennedy built raised beds, designed irrigation systems and worked with Ms. Brooks and others to fashion a chicken wire hood for foiling squirrels and raccoons. As reward for all his hard work, Mr. Kennedy had the privilege of harvesting the very first radish at the end of May, just days after the rector, Rev. Mark Andrews, led the parish in a garden blessing.

And the fruits of all the labour are spreading beyond St. Thomas’s. Mr. Kennedy and Ms. Brooks have led several garden tours for members of the local Parkdale deanery, professors and students from U of T, delegates to the 16th International AIDS Conference who attended the ecumenical pre-conference, and parents and children from Huron Playschool, which operates in the church basement. The garden will be featured in a forthcoming video by Greening Sacred Spaces, which showcases ecologically sound projects undertaken by faith communities in Toronto. “I hope the St. Thomas’s model will encourage other churches to undertake parish gardens,” says Ms. Brooks.

“Remember Matthew 13:8?” asks Mr. Kennedy, reflecting on the theme for the project. “We certainly were blessed with ‘good earth’ in our little garden.”

Julia Armstrong is a parishioner at St. Thomas’s Anglican Church, where she sings in the choirs.


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