Bumper crop fuels Catholic community in Seymour
SEYMOUR — Sacred Heart Parish in Seymour is growing a love of gardening and charity with their parish community garden.
“I think it’s a wonderful project for any church that has property to get their youth program or seniors involved…. From the first grade, all the way up until the 80s, we’ve got people helping. I’ve been very pleased with what’s been happening,” said Deacon Jim Novak, who has been parochial administrator at Sacred Heart for 11 years.
Dcn. Novak explained that two years ago, the stepchildren of the late Frank Hall, a well-respected parishioner and finance council member, said they thought their stepdad would like to donate some money and a one-acre property to the church. Their idea was the parish could grow a community garden on the property where Mr. Hall used to garden.
Dcn. Novak said after the assessments and property management were finished, the parish began planting a variety of fruits and vegetables.
“That’s where we are in year two. Presently, we just finished harvesting our potatoes, yellow and reds, as well as white onions. We’re picking black-eyed peas right now,” he said.
Potatoes and onions were placed in baskets at the back of Sacred Heart Church after Mass, and parishioners donated $135 for the fresh produce.
“[The parishioners] were very generous. The money goes towards the youth, mission trip, and social outreach. My hope is to raise between $1,000 to $2,000 each year,” Dcn. Novak said.
Parishioners also planted sweet corn, green beans, cucumbers, tomatoes, red and green bell peppers, okra, peppers, zucchini squash, yellow squash, cantaloupes, watermelons, and pumpkins.
“We’ll have something to harvest through this fall,” he said.
In addition to having the harvest available after Mass, the parish serves the produce at funerals and parish dinners, gives some to those in need, and freezes some for future consumption. The watermelons are especially popular at youth meetings.
The garden property also has four large pecan trees, and volunteers gathered about 200 pounds of pecans last year. The trees also provide nice shade for garden helpers.
God has blessed the parish garden in many ways through donations, according to Dcn. Novak.
ShopKo store employees in Seymour called last year and said they would like to donate some expired packaged seed to Sacred Heart’s garden.
“I thought it might be a handful. Well, they brought an entire box full of flower and vegetable seeds. Most of the packages said $1.99, so I added up the all the packages, and it was just short of $2,000 of free seed. Most of what we planted came from the seed that was donated. So, what we did this year is we let families take some free, and the rest we’re taking to our Kentucky Mission Trip this upcoming August,” Dcn. Novak said.
Jerry Kuhler, parish finance council member and garden volunteer, said after the estate offered to give the land to the church, two nephews volunteered to clear it, and another parishioner donated a storage shed.
Dcn. Novak said the Hall’s estate is paying the electric bills.
“So, we’re not out anything except for the work, but we have free labor,” he said.
Dcn. Novak said it’s a project in which whole families can get involved. Kuhler said he has noticed husbands and wives who have not been involved in many other parish activities show up to work in the garden.
“First graders planted most of the tomatoes, squash, and cantaloupe. They put in one seed at a time, and patted down the dirt,” Dcn. Novak said.
Pete Estraca, whom Dcn. Novak calls one of the work coordinators, also said it’s great how the whole parish can be involved in the garden. He used to work the cotton gin in Seymour, but he hasn’t worked since he became disabled in 2012.
“This year I planted all the potatoes and onions and everything. Then I got sick. I lost my eyesight for a while. I couldn’t come out there for two months. Finally, after I was getting around, I came over here, and started helping again,” he said.
Estraca said it took a lot of work to get his eyesight back, and that his family prefers he take it easy all the time because of his diabetes.
“But that drives me crazy, not being able to do anything. That’s why I like to come over here,” he said.
Estraca spends a lot of days watering and enjoys the breeze while sitting in the shade of the pecan trees.
Dcn. Novak spends an hour or so in the garden early in the mornings and in the evenings also to check on it. Many parishioners help as well.
Dcn. Novak shared his parish community garden experience with the seven other members of the Ministerial Alliance in Seymour. Some of the ministers thought it was a great idea, and they are thinking of planting gardens also. The ecumenical alliance works together to help transients with motel rooms and food. Now Dcn. Novak can give them fresh vegetables from Sacred Heart’s garden.
“If we have different families from any of the churches in town that need food, we just pass it on as much as we can,” Kuhler said.