Just moments away from a busy Long Island main road is a place of sanctuary and nourishment. It is like entering an Eden, of sorts. Step through an arched entryway, and a visitor discovers neatly cultivated rows of vegetables and raised beds stretching across the property of St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in North Bellmore. There are root vegetables, greens, summer squash and colorful flowers bursting from the earth. It is a peaceful place and one with a purpose.
|Susan Salem and Annie McPartlin are Co-Chairs of the Garden at St. Mark's in Bellmore, Long Island|
St. Mark’s member Susan Salem – a longtime local farming advocate – founded the Garden at St. Mark’s a year ago with co-chair Annie McPartlin. Susan is also the Saturday distribution manager at Restoration Farm. She felt the church property could be put to more productive use to address a real need in the community, that of feeding the hungry.
Most assume that Long Island is made up of affluent communities and carefully manicured lawns, but a 2010 study on Hunger in America by the organizations Feeding America, Long Island Cares and Island Harvest estimated that 1 in 10 Long Islanders seek relief from hunger each year at food pantries, soup kitchens and shelters.
The Garden at St. Mark’s seeks to address the problem. According to its informational materials, “The mission of the Garden is to have the church and community working together to enhance the environment through organic farming. The connection of soil and spirit, and the reverence for God’s earth will serve as an outreach ministry to bring healthy and nutritious food to those less fortunate.” A grant from Episcopal Charities helped to get the project started.
The Garden at St. Mark’s has already reaped an abundant harvest of results. “We were able to donate more than 1200 pounds of fresh organic produce to the Long Island Council of Churches Emergency Food Pantry in Freeport in our first season in 2011,” says Annie, a retired English teacher and avid gardener. “It's wonderful to know that we have been able to provide healthy, fresh food to those less fortunate.”
“The Garden has brought a great deal of recognition to St. Mark's,” says Annie. “There were many people in the Bellmores that thought the church was closed, and even more who had no idea of the beautiful grounds on which the church sits.” She explains that parish members have responded positively, although at first some were skeptical. But, they've seen what a great ministry The Garden at St. Mark's is and how its impact has reached far beyond the walls and grounds of the church itself.
Like any living garden, it continues to grow and evolve. “One of the things that I love about The Garden at St. Mark's is that we are still in the process of becoming,” says Susan, “And, that in itself, has become part of our identity and has brought many wonderful things to our door.”
This year, two different agencies that work with developmentally challenged adults reached out to the garden offering teams of volunteers who have taken charge of one of the raised beds.
“They are so excited to be growing food and were thrilled to learn that they were capable of starting everything from seed, rather than buying transplants from the store,” say Susan. “Their joy is contagious!”
Annie adds that they also have school groups and Girl and Boy Scouts coming to the Garden to learn about sustainability and the joy and serenity of digging in the dirt and producing something healthy, tasty, and beautiful.
Susan and Annie continue to hone their farming talents. Both are Master Gardener Interns having completed a 12-week course through Nassau County's Cornell Cooperative Extension in the Fall of 2011. Susan has also become a bit of a farming evangelist, and has advised other area churches on how to start their own gardens for the hungry.
“Our goal for The Garden at St. Mark's in our second season is to educate people about their ability to grow fresh produce right at their own homes – edible landscaping if you will – no matter how big or small their spaces are,” says Annie. “We also hope to make people aware that hunger in America isn't somewhere else – it’s right here among us on Long Island.”
The Garden at St. Mark’s aims to be self-sufficient. A farm stand offering produce from the garden is open every Sunday from 11:30 AM to 1:30 up until October 28 to help cover basic expenses for the charitable efforts.
“We are always looking for volunteers,” says Annie. “No experience is necessary, and any age is appropriate. We would really like to have a regular core of individuals we can count on. As the Garden grows, so does its reach and popularity. We need folks not only interested in gardening itself, but in fund-raising, publicity, farm stand work, and so many more things that go into keeping this Garden a place of enrichment, comfort, and peace.”
The Garden at St. Mark’s is located on the property of St. Mark The Evangelist Episcopal Church, 1692 Bellmore Avenue, North Bellmore, Long Island. Those interested in visiting or volunteering can contact Annie at firstname.lastname@example.org