On Saturday morning, April 9, the Rev. John Jeffrey Purchal performed a "Blessing of the Grounds" to commence what will soon become the Garden at St. Mark’s.
“I am just in awe of how much came together in such a short time,” said Purchal, before leading a group of about two dozen parishioners and community members in prayer.
Residents assembled in the center of about half an acre of land tucked behind Saint Mark the Evangelist Episcopal Church on Bellmore Avenue, earmarked for an organic garden. “The Spirit is really working here,” Purchal said.
The Idea is Planted
The plan for the Garden at St. Mark’s came about when parishioners Susan Salem and Ann McPartlin, both avid gardeners, were discussing ways to start some type of new community outreach at the small parish during an annual meeting in December.
“We have a long history of collecting canned goods for the food pantry,” said McPartlin, explaining that reaching out in other ways was a natural extension of that. The small parish had limited resources, Salem said, but what they did have was the land.
It was then that Salem and McPartlin came up with the plan to make good use of that land by planting and growing vegetables and flowers.
“It’s not just for St. Mark’s,” McPartlin said to the group during the ceremony. “It’s for the community.”
The vegetables will be donated to the local food pantry, while the flowers will be used for their own ministry at the church, saving the cost of florist purchases, and will be given to seniors to enjoy at local assisted-living facilities and senior citizen housing centers.
The Plan Takes Root
With Purchel and fellow parishioners giving the nod, the work then began to transform a 100-by-50-foot parcel of the church’s land into the organic garden.
In early February, Salem and McPartlin applied for a grant from the Episcopal Charities of Long Island, and learned only this month that the church was awarded $10,000. The grant will go toward professional gardening services to break up the root structure of some dead oak trees on the property, as well as other soil preparation and planting expenses.
Joined by fellow parishioners, including Jen Trzcinski, Salem and McPartlin spread the word about their plan beyond their small parish to friends, colleagues, and others throughout the community, hoping for donations of time, supplies, labor and expertise.
“The response was amazing,” Salem said. “Everyone in the Bellmore community that we have spoken with has been very supportive.”
Many Branches of Support
“We have so many people to thank,” McPartlin said at the ceremony.
Locals among them were Jim Schimmenti of Old Mill Nurseries who worked on clearing the land, irrigation and organic soil amending; Mark Anthony of Mark Anthony Architecture & Design, who committed to provide reclaimed lumber and other materials to make seeding tables, raised beds and signs; Dan Sabia of Built Well Solar Corp., who donated solar garden lights; and the Henning family who cut down trees at no charge.
Additionally, a donation was made in memory of Joe McPartlin to grind out 10 tree stumps.
Also, special education teacher and Children’s Sangha founding director Christine Keller has offered to teach children’s nature and gardening classes.
McPartlin thanked representatives of Episcopal Charities of Long Island Reverend Clare Nesmith and Deacon Lorraine Cusick, as well as the church's pastor, Purchal.
After the blessing of the grounds the Rev. Clare Nesmith, Executive Director of Espiscopal Charities of Long Island, presented the church with the $10,000 grant check.
Nesmith explained that diocesan grants are given for outreach programs such as soup kitchens, food pantries, after-school programs and the like to go beyond the church community “to help the rest of the neighborhood to have an opportunity to take part in something.”
By way of example, Nesmith said, “A CSO (Community Supported Agriculture) program is offered at St. Peter’s by the Sea in Bay Shore,” adding that such programs also enable “children to know that carrots don’t come in a bag. It connects them to God’s creation.”
Call for Community Help
The church group asks all residents to consider helping with the design and planting of the community garden, from now through October.
“Come join us for an afternoon, week, month or the whole season,” Salem urged. “Folks of all ages and abilities are invited to come down and learn, share their knowledge, connect with the Earth and get their hands dirty!”
Seniors are invited to come by to garden or just share gardening knowledge, youngsters needing community service credits are welcome to pitch in, Boy Scouts looking to complete Eagle Scout projects are needed, and anyone else interested in tilling the soil, planting, or otherwise helping may join in.
Individuals and community groups who are interested in helping should contact Susan Salem by calling 783-8596 or e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Please note: As the garden progresses, a "Go Green Gal" column will recount the types of vegetables and flowers planted and organic gardening methods being used, and who is participating in making the idea a reality. Be sure to check back to read all about it!