Community Garden Will Help to Feed Locals in Need

News Story: July 1, 2010
The SHU Community raised their hands in blessing the St. Martha Community Garden during its official opening. To watch a video of the blessing, click here.

In the spirit of St. Martha, a garden is flourishing on a hillside on the campus of Sacred Heart University and will help feed the Bridgeport community.
 
Tucked in a corner of the campus behind the health services building, the garden – which will be called the St. Martha Community Garden – has four raised beds, each containing rows of red and black bush beans. In its inaugural year, the community garden is an excellent example of collaboration, with help from SHU students and Campus Operations staff. Also pitching in are local volunteers, local businesses and members of Harvest Now, an affiliation of Catholic Charities, who proposed the idea to the Volunteer Programs office at Sacred Heart.
 
Dawn Doucette, the coordinator of Volunteer Programs, said Brooks Sumberg, founder of Harvest Now, approached her with the suggestion to start a community garden on campus. Ten other similar gardens already have been established at faith-based organizations throughout Fairfield County.
 
“SHU Volunteers have worked in community gardens off campus,” said Doucette, “so it only made sense to bring a community garden to campus. This project is representative of the mission of this office and the university.”
 
After Sumberg brought the idea to Doucette, she enlisted the help of three students, Christopher Casey, Robert Napolitano and Jonathan Rizzitello, from a Philosophy service learning class taught by Professor Michael Ventimiglia. The three worked on getting estimates to buy supplies to build the beds, helped build the wood beds and placed the mulch and some of the soil into the garden. Since the budget was small, much of the labor and supplies were donated. Bruce Moore Jr., director of landscape management for Eastern Land Management of Stamford, provided all the enriched soil. The Home Depot in Bridgeport donated additional supplies. “Campus Operations staff member Rafael Rivera and his team have been particularly generous, helpful and supportive from the beginning, pitching in to bring the soil up the hill to the garden beds,” said Doucette. “Campus Operations staff member, Ryan Sokolowski, designed and organized the building of the fence,” added Doucette, after she realized that rabbits were regularly stopping by the garden.
 

“This has been a wonderful collaboration of community members, students and SHU staff,” said Doucette. “We have been using the gifts of other people to make this happen.”
 
All of the produce from the community garden will be donated to the Connecticut Food Bank through Catholic Charities’ Harvest Now.
 
Referring to himself as a “do-er,” Sumberg said he started Harvest Now in January after it came to his attention that a food pantry in Bridgeport was closed more than it was open. When he asked why, he was told there was no food. He is hopeful that the number of Harvest Now gardens will grow from 10 to 24 next spring. As for the garden at SHU, Sumberg thinks the progression and involvement have been “fantastic.”
 
A blessing and dedication of the St. Martha Community Garden will take place at 10:30 a.m. on Thursday, July 29, which is St. Martha’s feast day. The entire SHU community is invited as well as Sumberg, the community volunteers, donors, and anyone else who would like to get involved in the project. A sign, designed by Campus Operations staff member Dennis Jackson, will be installed as well.
 
Doucette said it was only fitting that the garden be named after St. Martha, who is the patroness of cooks, homemakers, servants and hospitality givers. “The story of St. Martha reminds people to get their hands dirty and to work hard for the benefit of others,” she said.
 
Upon returning to class in the fall, the students and others will harvest the beans, and a discussion will take place on possibly expanding the garden. “The students will decide on an expansion based on the needs of the community being served,” said Doucette.
 
She also would like to see the garden enlarged and to get more involvement from others in the SHU community. The way she looks at it, she said, is that by participating in the garden project “everyone has ownership in it as well as having the opportunity to give back to the Bridgeport community.
 
“We want it to continue to grow.”
 
For more information or to participate, contact Doucette at 203-365-7622 or doucetted@sacredheart.edu.

To watch a video of the blessing of the garden, click here.