GREEN BAY — What started as a way to provide fresh produce became an outlet for community members to share culture and donate to others.
Annunciation Church, part of Quad Parishes in Green Bay, broke ground on a community garden on May 24. Since its opening, 24 community members and their families now use the garden to plant, grow and harvest their own produce.
The garden, which is made up of 32 10-by-20-foot plots, is a partnership between the Diocese of Green Bay Parish Mission Planning and the Brown County UW-Extension Community Gardens Program.
While some of the plants are easily recognizable, others are less familiar, said Becky Van Kauwenberg, the discipleship coordinator for Quad Parishes.
“Some of the people who are gardening there bring native plants from their home countries, so they may have been migrants or immigrants at some point,” said Van Kauwenberg. These plants, which include lemongrass, bitter melon and Thai eggplant, bring part of Hmong culture to the community.
Beth Stockbridge and her husband, Todd, adopted their son and daughter from the Philippines when the children were 12 and 13 years old. Although the children are not Hmong, they recognize plants in other plots from their childhood after growing up eating these foods.
Stockbridge said that her daughter has an interest in gardening and helped maintain the garden at the orphanage during her time there. Stockbridge and her husband, who moved from Madison to Green Bay 10 years ago, were looking for a place to have a garden after participating in Madison area community gardens. This is her second year participating in the Brown County UW-Extension’s Community Gardens Program.
“It’s just really nice sometimes to have something where you put a seed in the ground and you see it become this thing you can enjoy or share with other people,” said Stockbridge.
She said gardening is relaxing, satisfying and good for mental health. Her whole family enjoys cooking, especially when using produce grown from their plot.
Stockbridge’s family grows hot peppers because their children enjoy spicy foods, as well as potatoes, carrots, cantaloupe and other produce they use for eating and cooking. They preserve produce so they can have it throughout the year. Additional food they cannot consume is given to others.
The family participates in Planting for a Purpose, a program through the Brown County UW-Extension Community Gardens Program and Green Bay Packers Give Back, which allows gardeners to donate fresh produce to food pantries. This year, Stockbridge and her family are growing sweet potatoes for veterans.
“There are also opportunities to donate to local food banks,” she said, “but a lot of what we do is informal sharing with neighbors.”
The community garden is part of the Quad Parishes’ Parish Mission Planning Program. Begun by the diocese this year, the Parish Mission Planning Program invites parishes to plan three to five major goals or projects with strategic steps to aid with discipleship, evangelization and community impact. Community impact projects call parishes to “think beyond the walls” of the parish, said Dr. Joseph Bound, the parish mission planning director for the Diocese of Green Bay. Community impact projects, like the garden, allow parishes to combine resources and volunteerism to assist these initiatives. They benefit both parish members and community members alike.
“The Catholic Church is not one with an inward focus, but an outward focus,” said Bound.
He hopes that the community garden will not only produce fresh food, but also provide a sense of community, allow people to get to know one another and give the parish a community presence.
When planning their parishes’ community impact piece, VanKauwenberg said it was important to not just sit inside their buildings, but to look at the church in the bigger picture and think about how to build bridges with the community. She said the community garden is a good example of looking outside the walls to bring the community to the parish and form relationships.
Stockbridge said she is thankful for the good that has come from the parishes’ decision to construct the garden and how it has fostered a community. While she is working in her plot, other community members who are walking by sometimes stop and ask what she is doing. She can then tell that person more about the garden.
“With community impact, we want people to see it to the point to where (community members) say, ‘We need this parish here because it provides assistance,’” said Bound.
The community garden will not only provide food and a hobby to community members, it also gives them a chance to get to know one another better.
Sarah Ly, who has been participating in the program for three years, said that the program has allowed her to meet a lot of new people and feel close to her neighbors.
She was saddened to hear that the old garden, formerly located on Western Avenue, would be demolished. Gardeners now need to walk a longer distance or drive, but despite the extra distance, many gardeners transferred to the new plots.
“We were blessed the church offered the lot to us,” said Ly. She enjoys having a peaceful place where she can step away and see how much her plants have grown.
Ly also gives extra produce to neighbors and other community members who have plots near her own.
Brown County UW-Extension had to relocate the garden after landowners decided to construct a house for Habitat for Humanity on the plot. VanKauwenberg said that families still wanted to have a garden, so Brown County UW-Extension sought a new location.
“The majority of their garden space is rented to low-income people, so this provides them a way of getting the fresh produce that they otherwise wouldn’t be able to have,” said Carol Kittell, the Quad Parishes business administrator. The plot, which would have sat open, was a simple way for the parish to share what they have with the community.
VanKauwenberg said as plans for the garden were set into action, they realized that the garden connected with their own parishes’ mission: “Find home in the community, hope in the living presence of Christ and holiness in the parishes’ witness to the world.”
She said she hopes that the Quad Parishes become parishes of community and welcoming for people to connect in their presence and that the garden will help the parishes live out this mission.