Vegetables and good works are growing in the Garden of Feeden, a community garden at Holy Spirit Catholic Church in Maryland Heights.
Holy Spirit parishioner Charlie Milligan along with the pastor, the Rev. Rich Bochskopf, started the vegetable garden in 2009 on part of a three-acre field behind the church annex at 3130 Parkwood Lane.
They started the garden originally on a 50-by-75-foot area, but are now at 100-by-100 feet.
Volunteers grow 21 different kinds of vegetables, including tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, lettuce, spinach, green beans and onions. A small herb garden occupies a plot of ground in front.
"Last year, we started putting in a small orchard with blackberry trellises in back," Milligan said.
Everything grown is given to the poor.
The garden started specifically as a means to help Holy Spirit's HandS, a food pantry and assistance program for those needing financial help. HandS is funded solely through donations of food and money from parishioners.
"Even our first year, we produced so much in the garden we had to look to disperse it in other places," Milligan said.
When blessed with a bumper crop, the produce is distributed to other St. Louis area food pantries, in particular the St. Augustine Center in Wellston. Vegetables in bountiful years also are available for parishioners, though a good will offering is accepted for HandS.
"We've been taking on Tuesday mornings in the growing season 14 to 15 crates of fresh produce to St. Augustine's alone," Milligan said. "These poor areas are food deserts where people are unable to get fresh vegetables. It's expensive to feed a family healthy, and we try to help."
Parishioner Chris Heeb said the garden has been recognized by the State Farm Neighborhood Assist program as a top 200 finalist out of 3,000 submissions received by that national philanthropic program. The State Farm program empowers communities to identify issues in their neighborhood and awards local community organizations $25,000 to aid their efforts to help others.
Milligan said the garden is possible because of the assistance of a half-dozen volunteers who come to plant or harvest every Monday, Wednesday and Saturday.
"But we get other residents not even going to church here, but who like the garden and what it does for others," Milligan said.
"It's been a lot fun for me, really a blessing for everybody," Milligan said. "Our goal is to grow as much as we can to give away. We're a really vibrant parish, real big in corporal works of mercy, with a lot of us trying to live out those teachings. I felt like this garden was laid on my heart. God works in mysterious ways."
Tim Finnell, another parishioner who has helped at the garden since 2009, said he's been retired about a year and a half from being a managing supervisor at Ameren Corp. Now, he's got plenty of time to help and comes almost every day.
"I enjoy the end results, like when I take food to St. Augustine where people are always anxious to see us and enjoy the produce coming in," Finnell said.
"I'm also enjoying a new career outdoors instead of behind a desk," he said. "It's fulfilling and fun to do, to watch the plants grow and see how much we can get out of the garden. It's work but not in my eyes."
The garden even gets a different kind of harvest.
A few months ago, local artist Brother Mel Meyer designed metal sculptures to depict Christ's carrying of the cross to his crucifixion. The Stations of the Cross follow the perimeter of the garden.
"For most of the year, our associate pastor, Phil Krill, even has weekly Bible reflections under the old oak tree that protects a portion of the garden," said Heeb, who has been involved in the garden for a little more than a year and is in charge of the herb garden.
"The garden is very special to me since I am a chiropractic physician who emphasizes pro-action with an individual's health," Heeb said. "There are wonderful health benefits of eating fresh fruit and vegetables."
For more information on the garden, visit www.GardenThatFeeds.com.