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Feeding the Body and Soul: St. Piux X Catholic grows community, garden
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The community garden at St. Pius X Catholic Church, which grows produce to donate to the hungry through the St. Vincent de Paul Society charity. - photo by Michelle Kim/The News

Nothing tastes like a still-warm from the sun, freshly picked beefsteak tomato. It's juicy, red and taste like, well, a tomato.

It's hard to get that deep flavor from fruit plucked off the vine while still hard and shipped across country or continents, and sold offseason in local grocery stores.

Many area residents plant tomatoes and other vegetables annually. Others grow vegetables and fruits with the intention of sharing the harvest with the community. Still others, those who lack room in their yards, set up in a community garden.

The growing movement to create urban farms and community gardens is evident locally. In one corner of Rockdale County, members of St. Pius Catholic Church have grown a ministry that gives the produce they grow feed the hungry.


A ministry of growing and feeding

When Father John Keiran, formerly a horticulturalist in Ireland, came to St. Pius X Catholic Church in Conyers, he brought with him a love of gardening. During his tenure serving the church, parishioners created meditation gardens and walking paths on the church property. Most of the plantings are flowers, shrubs and herbs mentioned in the Bible or symbolic of a biblical story.

But this year, a new garden was built, extending the church's garden ministry. Member Ray Supple, Jr., was inspired by the St. Brendan Community Garden in Cummings, Ga., which he read about while visiting his son at Christmas time.

"I brought the brochure [about the garden] back to Mimi and the [then] pastor, Father Randy [Mattox], and said, ‘What do you think?' I told them I was willing to lay it out and do what needed to be done," Supple said.

What they thought was that it was a wonderful idea. Mimi Soileau, 85, who oversees the gardens at the church, told the church's newsletter editor, "Our purpose is to offer food to help the needy. We will be supplying fresh product to our St. Vincent de Paul Food Pantry, Rockdale Emergency Relief Services, the Senior Center, and possibly the Monastery."

Supple said once he had the go ahead, he drew up the plans for the garden in February. By March and April, 15 raised 12-feet-by-3-feet beds, complete with irrigation systems, were built and being planted. Some of those who came out to garden were not usually involved in church groups, he said. "It built that community right away."

The garden beds are currently producing cucumbers, squash, three kinds of peppers, and tomatoes, Soileau said. Over the last three or four weeks, cool weather crops like cauliflower, broccoli and kale have been harvested, but "most are finished now. We've replanted things like okra, green beans, Southern peas. It's really productive."

Supple estimates they've harvested between 150- and 200-pounds of vegetables so far.

Because most food pantries don't have a way to keep fresh food safely, food given out is usually nonperishable. But, thanks to the garden at St. Pius, St. Vincent de Paul is able to give out fresh produce because volunteers show up at the St. Pius garden to harvest crops by 8:30 a.m., and delivering it to the pantry on the days its open.

Soileau said growing vegetables to be given to the hungry is an act of faith. "It's one of the things we're called to do-feed the hungry and take care of the poor.

Donations and volunteer will continue to keep the vegetable garden growing, Soileau said.

"This was a big investment, but it's a long term investment," she said. "We won't have those big expenses any more, but year-to-year, we'll provide soil, seeds and fertilizer."

Supple said, "so far, considering it's a new garden, we've done really well as far as reaping crops."

It's also done well, he said, as a way to invite parishioners to get involved in a church organization. "We've seen the community grow around the garden. It's done what we're hoping it would do."

"It's growing very well," Soilneau agreed, "and we're proud of it."