Tune in for a video tour of the Bakhita Garden, St. Ignatius Loyola's community garden. The purpose of the garden is to feed the poor, while nourishing the earth and building community in Denver, Colorado.
When Paul Gibson began attending the St. Ignatius Loyola Catholic Church, he heard about the parish green team. The Care for Our Common Home team, named after the Pope Francis Encyclical of the same name, began in 2016 and was focused on glass recycling, battery recycling and climate action.
Paul wanted to expand the scope to include his passion. "To me, Care for Our Common Home means care of the earth and care of the poor," said Paul Gibson, coordinator of the Loyola garden project.
The garden began in 2016 and was named the Bakhita Garden, after Saint Josephine Bakhita, the patron saint of Sudan. It is located two blocks from the church, on the southeast corner of 23rd and Vine St in Denver.
A Growing Bounty
On a sunny Saturday morning, a half-dozen volunteers harvested tomatoes, cucumbers, zucchini, mustard greens, collard greens, peppers and green beans. They weighed them and piled them in a vehicle to be delivered.
"All our produce goes to our hungry brothers and sisters," said Paul.
The garden crew harvested 550 pounds in 2018. 2019 is the third full year for the garden and the harvest is expected to exceed 600 pounds.
"It doesn't matter who they love or if they go to our church," said Paul. "It they need food, we want to help them."
There are a total of 23 volunteers that support the garden by working in the garden, making deliveries or by praying.
The crew includes a handful with experience but most are newbies. Paul loves teaching gardening techniques to beginners.
"Volunteers love to come out and smell the soil," said Paul. "It changes your mood for the better."
Organic and Sustainable
"We grow organically and sustainably," said Paul. "That means that the soil gets better every year. We don't use any synthetic products: no commercial fertilizers, no pesticides, no herbicides."
Instead, the team uses compost and winter cover crops to replenish the soil. They also use organic techniques to minimize the risk of pests, such as crop rotation.
They divide the crops into four groups:
- Solanaceae (nightshade family) – potato, tomato, peppers, eggplant
- Brassicaceae (crucifer family) - broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, kale, turnip
- Cucurbitaceae (marrow family) – squash, zucchini, cucumber, marrow, melon, cantaloupe, pumpkin
- Leguminosae (pea & bean family) – all types of peas and beans
"We never grow the same crops in the same place two years in a row," said Paul. "Every year they move to a different place."
This eliminates the risk of accidentally passing on crop-specific soil-dwelling pests and diseases to the next crop.
They also use companion plantings. For example, there is a fly that damages onions and a moth that diminishes the carrots. By planting carrots and onions next to each other, you can repel both of these pests.
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Converting Grass to Gardens
The parish has several green spaces that are predominantly lawns. In the first year, the team was given a 200 square foot space to convert from grass to garden, as a trial. Now, the garden space is twice that size.
"The parish has been happy with the effort, the way the garden looks, and the way we care for the earth," said Paul. And it uses less water!
"And you can't eat grass, but you can certainly eat what we're growing."
Learning to Garden
Let's say your team decides to start a community garden, but you don't have much experience. What should you do?
If you're in the Denver area, you can work alongside the Loyola crew!
"Come out and work with us and learn 'on the job'," said Paul. "I'd be happy to help anyone who needs help with a garden," as his main pursuit in life now.
Paul was a Master Gardener in Virginia, beginning in 2005. He volunteering 1,000 hours annually, working with children, schools and communities to start gardens.
Other gardening resources include:
Expanding and Educating
The team received a Friends of the Poor $5,000 grant from the St. Vincent de Paul Society. The grant funds were used to expand the impact of the garden through:
- the purchase refrigeration to keep produce fresh longer
- offering a series of three wellness classes at the Dahlia Center for Health and Wellbeing, focusing on nutrition, lifestyle, and cooking with fresh ingredients
- building a raised bed to make gardening available to people who can't get down on their knees
- St Ignatius Loyola Catholic Parish
- Paul Gibson
Email: gibsonp2 (at) comcast.net, Phone: 703-772-6139
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