By Rachele Smith

The Catholic Commentator

“To feed the hungry.”

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Parishioners, students and others interested in the community garden at St. Jean Vianney Church in Baton Rouge stretch out their hands in prayer as pastor Father Tom Ranzino offers a special blessing for continued growth and sustainability of the ministry. Photo by Rachele Smith | The Catholic Commentator


That’s how Bob Hand, a parishioner at St. Jean Vianney Church in Baton Rouge, described the mission of his church’s community garden.

Hand’s comment came just moments before the area, rich with growing cucumber vines and other plants, some offering ready-to-be picked bell peppers, beans and other summer vegetables, was blessed and dedicated by Father Tom Ranzino, pastor of St. Jean Vianney, on May 17.

In offering his blessing, Father Ranzino prayed with the crowd of gardeners, members of SJV school’s 4-H Club and other parishioners and friends gathered around the raised vegetable beds. He asked God’s blessing for the community garden, which has already provided home-grown produce to those in need, and offered prayers for it to continue to grow in abundance.

“Just as the bread and wine we share at Eucharist becomes the fruit of the earth and the product of human hands, so may this work (in the garden) be the fruit of labor for the nourishment of those who need it,” he said.

To date, the community garden has provided fresh food to many organizations that help those in need, including the church’s emergency food pantry, the shelter at St. Agnes Church in Baton Rouge, and several groups through Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Baton Rouge, such as Joseph Homes, Refugee Resettlement and Sanctuary for Life, a maternity home for unwed mothers.

Hand, who is a master gardener in the Baton Rouge area, said he is excited to help with the community garden ministry. He said he was asked to help shortly after a JustFaith group at SJV conceptualized the idea in 2013.

Patti Clement, a member of the JustFaith group, said as she and the other group members learned about hunger, they also discovered how another church in Colonia, New Jersey used their JustFaith experience to help others through the creation of a local garden.

“We said, ‘We need to do this,’‚ÄČ” said Clement, who also serve as a volunteer coordinator for the garden.

From that decision, the idea blossomed into joining forces with master gardeners within the SJV community and members of the Episcopal Church of the Holy Spirit.

For several years, parishioners helped till the soil, plant, harvest and donate vegetables grown at a site operated by members of that church called “My Father’s Garden” on S. Harrell’s Ferry Rd.

However, when the church closed, SJV parishioners wanted to keep their green thumbs, well, green, so they simply moved the community garden next to the school’s playground.

Today, the area has been furnished with a storage shed and multiple raised gardening beds, thanks to two Eagle Scouts from SJV’s Boy Scout troop, and with the assistance of some enterprising parishioners, the garden also has its own water source.

In addition, a St. Francis statue adds a sense of spirituality and peace to the garden, while a high fence keeps out unwanted visitors of the four-legged kind.

“Last fall, as I was planting, the deer (in a nearby wooded area) must have been watching me and thinking I was planting them a salad buffet,” he laughed, adding that the animals later ate a lot of those plants.

“This is the first year we have gotten a full harvest,” he said, proudly, noting how the garden has produced an abundance of squash and green beans and will soon provide eggplant, tomatoes, purple hull peas and other produce, including juicy satsumas, once the recently planted trees reach maturity.

Parishioner Roger Mayes, who is the owner of Louisiana Nursery, also spends a great deal of time lending his experience and knowledge to the church’s community garden.

Shortly after the blessing, Mayes and other garden volunteers, parishioner John Rinaudo and school parent Tony Nguyen, were back at work, repotting two tall flowering plants that will serve as a warm welcome to those entering the garden.

Mayes said what he enjoys most about the community garden is how the kids are interested.

“They’re looking and pointing. They give me hope for the future of gardening,” Mayes said.

Father Ranzino, who also described various types of tomatoes he is growing in his own garden near the rectory, added he is happy the ministry is flourishing as it provides a way to turn faith into action.

“It has joined together an eclectic group of people in the parish all working together to help the larger community,” he said.