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The following text is a speech delivered by Garden Club Sponsor, Mrs. Janus on 02/25/21.

At Saint Mary’s, we are committed to following Christ and his Gospel, which at its simplest tells us this:

Love God and love your neighbor.

In our school garden, we take a deeper look at how blessed we are by the bounty of nature. We try to think about how we can be good stewards of God’s creation. We talk about the ways we benefit from its gifts of food, and community, and restoration.

Our garden is its own community: worms and microorganisms feed the soil, plants grow with warmth from the sun and water from the rain, pollinators of all sorts enable the cycle of life to continue. When we spend time in our garden we get to see how we fit into this cycle–how we can help it to flourish and how we can avoid harming its rhythms.

Our school garden also gives us a window into talking about food systems. Is what we eat local or does it come from far away? Are we choosing something to eat that grows here seasonally? Do all people have access to food or are they unable to get certain things because they lack transportation or the resources to grow or purchase it?

We wouldn’t be here today if Chef Gene had not asked me a year ago to grow butternut squash for him in the school garden. I brought seeds from a hardy variety I’d grown at home and planted some of those; I also bought a couple of seedlings and planted those as well to make sure we had lots of squash.

All through the long, quarantine summer, God did most of the work taking care of those squash. When school started back in August, the Garden Club members and I watched and waited and then harvested two heavy bags full of squash that Chef Gene was able to turn into a side dish for the people he helps feed.

Our garden is small, and once the squash were gone, we all wondered, and pondered, what else we might do to help Chef Gene and The Salvation Army feed more people. A group called Kids Gardening advertised a contest called Carton 2 Garden, sponsored by a company called Evergreen Packaging. We saw that contest and our idea–just a seed at first–began to take root.

As part of our project for the contest, we collected and recycled milk cartons from our school cafeteria. Our Girl Scout Troop, our school Garden Club, our lunchroom coordinator and her daughter, our youth minister and several of her friends, some of our alumni and some of our teachers and current students all joined us in turning the cartons into Christmas pots!

Virginia Department of Forestry, donated 100 Virginia pine seedlings and the Henrico County Extension donated 50 redbud seedlings. Scott Turner from Truetimber Arborists helped us pot the seedlings in our milk-carton pots, and we sold these online and in our carpool lines at school. We raised $1,000 selling seedlings.

We submitted our project as our Carton 2 Garden contest entry, and we won another $1,000! With the money we raised, we were able to pay one of our alumni to refurbish our raised beds so that our garden can keep on growing and we are able to present to you this check so that you can feed more people–people who are our neighbors.

Evidence that this journey has borne good fruit is abundant — we’ve learned that we can grow food, and we’ve learned that we can use our school garden as fertile space for community, creativity, action and motivation. If you think about it, God’s relationship with human beings began in a garden. Our relationship with each other can start here, too.

On behalf of all of the members of the Saint Mary’s community, I would like to present Captain Melody Moran of the Salvation Army with this check for $1,000 to be used to help Chef Gene and his team feed our neighbors through the Salvation Army’s mobile food kitchens in Richmond.