‘All of creation is a song of praise to God’ — Community garden feeds the hungry, nourishes faith and relationships

Finn Huinker helps prepare a raised bed for planting earlier this year at St. Patrick Parish in Iowa City.

By Lindsay Steele
The Catholic Messenger

L. Hernandez

IOWA CITY — Earlier this year, a diverse group of Catholics gathered to plant seedlings in the St. Patrick Parish community garden. Age, language and place of origin didn’t matter — everyone had a role to play.

“I feel like there is potential to unite the community,” said Lourdes Hernandez, co-chair of the parish’s garden ministry. Each year, parishioners help the garden produce fresh vegetables and herbs for individuals and families experiencing food insecurity.

Designed for inclusivity


The garden’s design celebrates the parish’s Irish roots and a growing Hispanic community. The space between four raised beds forms the shape of a Celtic cross. The sides of the


raised beds are adorned with Iowa limestone and Mexican tile. “It’s a visual demonstration of our community,” said Lindell Joseph, garden ministry co-chair. “It’s a symbol to others that the church is a welcoming place.”

The community garden took root four years ago with English- and Spanish-speaking parishioners in mind. “Since the initial concept, the ministry has looked and asked for feedback from both communities,” said Hernandez, who is bilingual. Her husband, Deacon Angel Hernandez, serves at the parish. “Thanks to the efforts of continually inviting the entire community and making sure all the events and schedules are bilingual, we are working hard to make sure everyone feels welcome and knows they belong,” she said.

Working together

Members of St. Pat’s garden ministry combine their strengths to make the garden a success. It’s a year-round effort; long before the first seedlings sprout, parishioners discern which crops to plant in the four stone-and-tile beds and four raised, wooden beds along the perimeter. To grow as much produce as possible, the garden ministry chooses plants that produce in abundance. “Because we are limited (in space), we have to be strategic,” Joseph said.

In early spring, parishioners start seedlings from home. In mid-May, individuals and families come together to prepare the beds and plant seedlings. This year’s garden includes cherry tomatoes, zucchini, cucumbers, tomatillos, provider beans, peppers and herbs. It also includes marigolds — a “symbol of Mary,” Joseph said.

Members add their names to an online spreadsheet to take turns weeding, watering and harvesting the plants. As the weather turns cold, parishioners winterize the garden by putting away benches, removing old plants and covering the beds with straw.

New parishioners Abbie and Brandon Huinker said involvement in the garden ministry has helped them feel included. “Everyone involved with the garden ministry has been so welcoming and accommodating to our family. It’s been a joy to meet everyone,” Abbie Huinker said. The Huinkers and their two young children, Alma and Finn, help with different aspects of the gardening process. “While we love getting involved at church, we find it most rewarding when we can get involved as a whole family.”

Feeding the hungry

Though parishioners are welcome to taste a cherry tomato or two, the bulk of the produce is reserved for local individuals and families in need. Joseph regularly makes deliveries to CommUnity Food Bank in Iowa City during harvesting season.

“Fresh produce is a vital source of nutrients that we really need in the food bank and we’re so grateful when we receive produce donations,” said Emma Huntzinger, communications manager for CommUnity Crisis Services and Food Bank.

Parish families who are struggling with food insecurity are welcome to take home produce. Joseph observes that some elderly visitors to the perpetual adoration chapel are on a fixed income and sometimes struggle with food costs — they, too, are welcome to share in the harvest.

A place to pray

Even when the church is not open, people can stop by the garden and sit on one of the benches. “We want people to use the garden as a place for reflection,” Joseph said.

The garden is one of parishioner Nathan Platte’s favorite places to pray. It is a place that feels quiet but not completely still. “There’s a breeze, the sound of birds, people walking their dogs from the neighborhood. That feeling of motion and presence — and the changing light is part of that — is conducive for prayer. The garden itself is a beautiful work that reflects the care of fellow parishioners and God’s presence in that work, as embodied through life and growth. Praying in the garden reminds me that prayer, like planting, is something we do with God’s help. That God blesses and transforms the time we give to these activities.”

Looking to the future

Lindell Joseph
Limestone raised garden beds at St. Patrick Parish in Iowa City form the shape of a Celtic cross and include Mexican tile.

Platte and his wife, Diane, are involved in the garden ministry at St. Pat’s. Though he admits his gardening knowledge is “zilch,” they host care-for-creation prayer services in the garden that include readings, music, reflection and food-based fellowship. Events like these could become more common in the future; the garden ministry hopes to establish walkways and gathering areas. Members also hope to build and fill more raised beds.

‘The garden has so much potential, and we are trying to make this space abundant in food for others and a place to unify us all as one body of Christ,” Hernandez said.

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