Parish garden project takes root at St. Mary, Bloomington

Photo Caption: Father Ric Schneider, OFM, pastor of St. Mary Parish in Bloomington, is joined in the parish garden by, from left, Rita Yordy, Mary Kramp and Steve Kuhn.

By: By Jennifer Willems

BLOOMINGTON — Faith has long been part of the landscape at the corner of Mason and Taylor streets here. Once the site of Christ Temple Pentecostal Church, the lot is now owned by St. Mary Parish and producing a different kind of good fruit.

Not content to grow a nice carpet of grass, parishioners have planted a garden that benefits St. Mary Parish and School, as well as the community. Not only does it include flowers, but butterfly bushes and a variety of vegetables.

The idea of a parish garden was put forth by Mary Kramp in January and quickly adopted by other members of the parish with green thumbs.
“It provides food for the (Loaves and Fishes) soup kitchen and the kids are involved, too. They planted some of the stuff they started in school,” said Father Ric Schneider, OFM, pastor. “I wanted to use the property and this is an ideal thing to do.”

The site was prepared by Tim Burkhart, a farmer who supplied the cow manure and a water tank and even came up with some cotton seeds so the students could see how it grows. Since the land has a nice slope, he suggested that strips of grass be left between the rows to prevent erosion.
Steve Kuhn planted 14 tomato plants and eight bell pepper plants and has taken responsibility for their care. There are a promising number of both taking shape already.

“I put in three kinds of lettuce, turnips, onions,” said Rita Yordy, a master gardener who weeds the garden and pinches back the “dead heads” as she talks on a recent afternoon. “The lettuce is done, so we double-cropped some green beans and some beets.”

She will plant lettuce again in the fall, since it is a good crop for the cool weather.

Donna Zvonar’s eighth grade class at St. Mary School planted pinto beans and observed their growth in the classroom during the spring. Before school was dismissed for the summer, the seedlings were donated to the parish garden and are right on schedule to be picked in October, according to Kramp.

“I wanted to have some pumpkins so the kids could use them to decorate the school and the church,” she told The Catholic Post. She eventually decided to plant gourds as well as pumpkins and “they’ve taken over the place.”

The garden also has herbs, such as chives, parsley and dill.

“We asked the ladies in the kitchen what kind of spices they wanted. They said they use a lot of them,” Yordy said. The lettuce, herbs and other vegetables have already found their way into meals at Loaves and Fishes, an outreach of Clare House that the parish has hosted for more than 10 years.

“I bring my granddaughters on Tuesday and Thursday mornings because that’s when the soup kitchen is there,” Yordy explained. “I’ll go and tell the ladies what I’ve got for the day and ask how much they want of it. We’ve got a big basket and we just carry it over there. Today some of the people said, ‘There’s the garden girls!'”

She noted that the Franciscan priests have enjoyed it, too, since she always leaves fresh produce on their porch.

As they were planning the garden, St. Mary parishioners got a lot of help from the people at Holy Trinity in Bloomington. They have a “nice, big garden” and give away everything they grow, Kramp said.

As the garden continues to grow, so does parish involvement:

— Zachary Falasz, a student at University High School in Normal, is making a sign and working on landscaping for the garden as part of his Eagle Scout project;

— Master gardener Andrea Banicki, the librarian at St. Mary School, has helped to promote the garden among the teachers; and

— Sharon Hartrich Jackson, a parishioner who teaches at nearby Irving School, donated seeds and seedlings with the help of her students, fostering a nice relationship between the two schools.

“The other thing that’s fun about this is sometimes when we come out here and work, people stop by,” said Kramp, who comes every other day.

“We’re real proud of this and it’s fun for us.”

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