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Feed The Hungry

Catholic Community Gardens and Social Action

See Also – Food Security 2005   Food Security 2008   Food Security 2009

Feed the Hungry


Our Community Garden


Organize a Seed Swap


Parish Fundraiser Ideas


Catholic Community Gardens

Thanks for a great season to Our 2009 Featured Seed Company

Catholic Community Gardens

Community Garden Resources


 Where to Find Free Seeds


Garden Methods


French Intensive Gardening


Hay Bale Gardens



Catholic Community GardensFeed the Hungry In 2009, this effort is more important than ever before. Whether you decide to plant an extra row for the hungry, or start a community garden, this is a project that brings faith into action in a very real way.  Join other members of your parish or apostolate to start a community garden. It’s a great way to build community, too.


Above: our son Blaze, now 21, with a pile of zucchini squash he harvested for our parish food pantry. 


I have the feeling that this year, the prevailing front yard garden “fashion” that includes pricey sculpted shrubs will give way to edible garden chic. Don’t be surprised to see borders formerly bursting with impatiens suddenly turn to brilliant green and purple salad greens.


As this century progresses, awareness is growing with regard to the dangers of genetically modified foods. Some think that they may be responsible for Morgellan’s disease. There is also the moral abomination of terminator seeds that don’t produce seeds that can be saved for the following season, forcing gardeners to continue to pay for increasingly costly seeds each year. Meddling with God’s creation is never a good idea, and we are just beginning to see the frightening effects.  If you plan on having children involved in your garden, it is especially important to use organic seeds. Most “bargain” seeds are coated with dangerous chemicals and fungicides that can rapidly permeate the skin. Look for organic open pollinated seeds that will allow you to harvest and save some for the following year without the toxins.


Catholic Community GardensWe have our favorite sources, but sometimes they, too can be costly.  One affordable alternative is Richter’s Herb and Vegetable Seeds. They not only offer a wide variety of seeds for growing your own herbs and vegetables, but also plants that are ready to set without the worries of damping off when you start seeds indoors. If you have a large area to plant – or if you want to share with a group of friends – the offer bulk sizes, too.


Organize a Parish Seed Swap


Catholic Community Gardens


A seed swap is an informal gathering of gardening friends who come together to share seeds they’ve saved. It’s also an excellent means of sharing information on what worked — and what didn’t — in your community’s climate.    You can also build a program by asking someone from your agricultural extension unit to come speak about best gardening practices or invite a master gardener to visit. Sometimes, if you ask nicely, they’ll even bring some seeds to share.


Why not invite the community? Hunger isn’t limited to one faith. Place announcements in the local paper and ask everyone to participate. Place an announcement on Craig’s List and invite members of local gardening clubs.

Mother Earth News has granted permission for groups to hand out reprints of some of their best seed saving and seed starting articles:


Catholic Community GardensGrow Your Own Seeds


Savvy Seed Care


Seed Starting Basics



Have a contest! The gardener who brings the widest variety of heirloom tomato seeds will win an NRG ergonomic garden trowels from Mother Earth News. Just send an Email with the subject line “Seed Swap Contest” to [email protected]  and they will help you set this up.


You can also use a seed swap as a parish fund raiser by offering herbs and seedlings for sale.


Richter’s Herb and Vegetable Seeds are sufficiently low cost that you can mark them up a little to make a profit.


Raffle off a premium packet of seeds or group of plants or even some garden tools.


At the end of the season — or even when spring lettuce is at its peak — host a Green Market sale to raise funds for your parish outreach. Or host a blue ribbon harvest festival.

Catholic Community GardensOur Community Garden

About 15 years ago we started a community garden in the middle of our street!

Most of the yards in our community are quite small, so we brought together a group of neighbors, Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts and asked the city to plow up plots in the middle of the grassy malls.

Our former pastor, Fr. Tom, came to bless the garden, and the usual group of politicians showed up for a photo op.

 Catholic Community Gardens

Father Tom Blesses The Garden

The gardens spread to other locations and school groups often visited for tours. We were able to supply the food pantry with lots of fresh vegetables and provide fresh flowers to those who needed cheering.

Our efforts won awards on a national level including the American Community Garden Award. We survived road repair – except for the traffic circle once full of lilies and sunflowers – and it even survived the boys growing up and finding other interests.

The garden was the focal point for my degree in sociology centering on community cohesion and crime reduction.

Catholic Community Gardens

Sadly, after ten years of providing happiness to many, it did not survive a change in the local government administration.  We came home one day to find the rose trellis knocked down, the garden beds plowed under and all the perennials and heirloom herbs were lost forever. Not an unusual scenario for community gardens in public spaces. We’ll start again this year with a new “crop” of social action minded gardeners. In the meanwhile the original garden lives on in the hearts who worked in it, visited it, and reaped its benefits.

Do you know of a Catholic Community Garden website? Send links here We’ve only found one: Catholic Charities in Ann Arbor, MI

Resources for Community Gardening

The American Community Gardening Association (ACGA) is your first stop for community gardening. You’ll probably spend a lot of time at their site because there is so much information to look through, so bookmark it for later on. The Association recognizes that community gardening improves the quality of life for people by providing a catalyst for neighborhood and community development, stimulating social interaction, encouraging self-reliance, beautifying neighborhoods, producing nutritious food, reducing family food budgets, conserving resources and creating opportunities for recreation, exercise, therapy and education.

Plant a Row for the Hungry sponsored by the Garden Writers Association. Not only will they provide helpful information and resources, but you’ll have a full cadre of writers to publicize your project!

iVillage Community Garden Forum – Meet other gardeners, share ideas and inspiration.

The Food Security Center explores the nature of poverty and hunger and how community gardens can make a difference.

Green Guerillas – We met up with this group in the 1970s when we started a garden in the East Village of NYC in response to urban squalor and hunger. They’ve come a long way and anyone in an urban area will do well to spend some time at this website.

Guerilla Gardening – Lots of inspiration here. Another great website where you’re likely to get lost for a while.

The American Horticultural Therapy Association – If you have any doubts about the benefits of gardening, they will be erased as you look through this site.

120X240 Go Organic

Find Seed Donations:


Many seed and garden companies will make a donation at the end of the season.

We especially like Seeds of Change which offers a wide variety of open pollinated, organic seed for a small shipping fee.

Be sure to visit the Organic Seed Alliance as well all of the other large seed companies who will usually donate just for asking.

Send an application to America the Beautiful Fund, an organization that:

  • saved more than 800 tons of seeds and 7 million flower bulbs from going to waste in landfills – free plant seeds
  • grown 1.75 billion pounds of food for the hungry – free vegetable seeds
  • beautified roadways, parks and neighborhoods in 20,000 communities in all 50 states. – free flower seeds

Below is a state by state list of seed companies that are known to make donations.  

Most of these companies require a letter on your letterhead. I have prepared a mail merge list to take the work out of preparing letters to each of them along with a suggested letter. There is also an email merge option.

Available for $5 which helps support this site. 

Catholic Community Gardens

Sand Mountain Herbs (Fyffe, Ala.)


Native Seeds / SEARCH (Tucson, Ariz.)
Seeds Trust (Cornville, Ariz.)


Bountiful Gardens (Willits, Calif.)
J. L. Hudson, Seedsman (LaHonda, Calif.)
Laurel’s Heirloom Tomato Plants (Lomita, Calif.)
Mountain Valley Growers (Squaw Valley, Calif.)
Natural Gardening Co. (Petaluma, Calif.)
Ornamental Edibles (San Jose, Calif.)
Peaceful Valley Farm Supply (Grass Valley, Calif.)
Redwood City Seeds (Redwood City, Calif.)
Renee’s Garden (Felton, Calif.)

Botanical Interests (Broomfield, Colo.)
Golden Harvest Organics (Fort Collins, Colo.)
The Garlic Store (Fort Collins, Colo.)


Comstock, Ferre & Co. (Wethersfield, Conn.)
John Sheeper’s Kitchen Garden Seeds (Bantam, Conn.)
New England Seed (Hartford, Conn.)

Eden Organic Nursery Services (E.O.N.S.) (Hallandale, Fla.)
The Gourmet Gardener (Live Oak, Fla.)
The Pepper Gal (Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.)
Tomato Growers Supply Co. (Fort Myers, Fla.)

American Organic Seed & Grain (Warren, Ill.)
Underwood Gardens (Woodstock, Ill.)


Great Harvest Organics (Atlanta, Ind.)
The Chile Woman (Bloomington, Ind.)


Blue River Organic Seed (Kelley, Iowa)
Mark Seed Co. (Perry, Iowa)
Sand Hill Preservation Center (Calamus, Iowa)
Seed Savers Exchange (Decorah, Iowa)

Pendleton’s Country Market (Lawrence, Kan.)
Skyfire Garden Seeds (Kanopolis, Kan.)


Ferry-Morse Seed Company (Fulton, Ky.)
Sustainable Mountain Agriculture Center (Berea, Ky.)


FEDCO Seeds (Waterville, Maine)
Johnny’s Selected Seeds (Winslow, Maine)
Pinetree Garden Seeds (New Gloucester, Maine)
Wood Prairie Farm (Bridgewater, Maine)

Pepper Joe’s (Timonium, Md.)


Krohne Plant Farms, Inc. (Hartford, Mich.)

Albert Lea Seed House (Albert Lea, Minn.)


Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds (Mansfield, Mo.)
Granny’s Heirloom Seeds (Humansville, Mo.)
Pantry Garden Herbs (Cleveland, Mo.)

G & H Garlic Farm (Littleton, N. H.)

Thompson & Morgan (Jackson, N.J.)


Gourmet Seed International (Tatum, N.M.)
Plants of the Southwest (Santa Fe and Albuquerque, N.M.)
Seeds of Change (Santa Fe, N.M.)
Seeds West Garden Seeds (Albuquerque, N.M.)

Harris Seeds (Rochester, N.Y.)
Seedway (Hall, N.Y.)
Stokes Seeds Inc. (Buffalo, N.Y.)
Turtle Tree Seed (Copake, N.Y.)

Appalachian Seeds (Flat Rock, N.C.)
Cornerstone Garlic Farm (Reidsville, N. C.)


Bobba-Mike’s Garlic Farm (Orrville, Ohio)


Abundant Life Seeds (Saginaw, Ore.)
Horizon Herbs (Williams, Ore.)
Nichols Garden Nursery (Albany, Ore.)
One Green World (Molalla, Ore.)
Sow Organic Seed (Williams, Ore.)
Territorial Seed Co. (Cottage Grove, Ore.)
The Thyme Garden Herb Company (Alsea, Ore.)
Victory Seed Company (Molalla, Ore.)
Wild Garden Seed (Philomath, Ore.)


Container Seeds (Wellsboro, Penn.)
Heirloom Seeds (W. Elizabeth, Penn.)
The Cook’s Garden (Warminster, Penn.)
W. Atlee Burpee Co.(Warminster, Penn.)


Park Seed Co. (Greenwood, S.C.)
R. H. Shumway’s (Graniteville, S.C.)
Seeds for the South (Graniteville, S.C.)

Marianna’s Heirloom Seeds (Dickson, Tenn.)
New Hope Seed Company (Bon Aqua, Tenn.)

Garden Store-N-More (LaPorte, Tex.)
Willhite Seed Inc. (Poolville, Tex.)
Bob Wells Nursery (Lindale, Tex.)
Brown’s Omaha Plant Farms (Omaha, Tex.)
Dixondale Farms (Carrizo Springs, Tex.)

VERMONT – Our Featured Company for 2009
High Mowing Organic Seeds (Wolcott, Vt.)

Garden Medicinals and Culinaries (Earlysville, Va.)
Southern Exposure Seed Exchange (Mineral, Va.)

Filaree Farm (Okanogan, Wash.)
Garden City Seeds (Ellensburg, Wash.)
Osborne Seed Company (Mount Vernon, Wash.)


Botanikka Seeds (Iron Ridge, Wis.)
Totally Tomatoes (Randolf, Wis.)
Vermont Bean Seed Co. (Randolph, Wis.)


Seed Companies in Canada


Boundary Garlic Farm (Midway, British Columbia)
Gardeners Web (Bowden, Alberta)
Hole’s Greenhouses & Gardens (St. Albert, Alberta)
Salt Spring Seeds (Salt Spring Island, British Columbia)
Stellar Seeds (Sorrento, British Columbia)
West Coast Seeds (Delta, British Columbia)
William Dam Seeds (Dundas, Ontario)
Richter’s (Goodwood, Ontario)

Gardening Techniques

If you’re growing food – for yourself or others – you probably won’t have a lot of land. We’ve found several techniques to be useful. Here are two: French Intensive Gardening and Hay Bale Gardening.

No Dig Gardening – A wonderful site maintained by my good friend Robyn who lives in Australia.

End Times Report – A preparedness website from an old  friend, Miles Stair, who includes many excellent tips for stealth gardening.

French Intensive Gardening

Travis Beck and Martin F. Quigley, Department of Horticulture and Crop Science, The Ohio State University

Catholic Community Gardens

French intensive organic gardening offers a means to produce large quantities of fresh vegetables in a small area without the use of synthetic pesticides or fertilizers. It is an excellent gardening method for city dwellers who have limited yard space and who do not wish to expose themselves, their children, or their pets to potentially dangerous chemicals. It is also well-suited to small market garden operations.

Intensive organic gardening has its roots in the French market gardens of the 19th century. Parisian gardeners at this time were able to grow over 100 pounds of produce annually for every person in the city. They achieved this remarkable productivity through the use of raised beds (up to 18 inches in height) built with horse manure, which was abundant at the time, close plant spacing, and the use of glass cloches to allow for growth even in the winter.

These techniques were brought to the United States by Alan Chadwick in the 1930s, and have continued to be refined and promoted by John Jeavons. Simultaneously, J. I. Rodale began demonstrating organic practices on his Pennsylvania farm. Rodale emphasized the creation of healthy soil through the use of organic amendments. The Rodale Institute now promotes the same philosophy of soil management for small gardens as well as farms, and Rodale Press has published much literature on organic gardening.

Intensive Organic Gardening Practices

A key element in intensive organic gardens is the raised bed (Figure 1). These beds are made of loose rich soil that provides excellent growing conditions for most vegetables. They should be narrow enough that a person standing on the path can reach comfortably to the middle of the bed.

Raised beds can be permanently defined by landscape timbers (the use of non-treated lumber is recommended), boards, bricks, or any number of other materials.

They may also simply be shaped out of the soil. The latter practice makes it easier to build a curved bed shape which increases the relative growing area. The soil in a raised bed is typically turned and amended at the beginning of each growing season. This can be done with a rototiller, by hand, or through the process of double-digging.

Double-digging involves loosening the soil to a substantial depth, and amending the top layer. The steps in double-digging are as follows: Catholic Community Gardens

  • Spread a layer of compost and other soil amendments on the surface of the area to be dug.
  • Using a spade or short-handled shovel, remove a trench of soil approximately one foot deep and one foot wide along the narrow end of the bed.
  • Loosen the soil at the bottom of the trench with the shovel or a spading fork. Avoid mixing soil layers as much as possible.
  • Dig a one foot by one foot trench next to your existing one and place the soil removed on top of the loosened soil in your first trench.
  • Repeat steps 3 and 4 along the length of the bed.

This process will create a raised bed simply by loosening the soil and incorporating additional organic matter. The bed can then be shaped with a rake to achieve a rounded surface. It is important not to double dig when the soil is too wet, as this will create large clumps. A lightly moist soil is ideal. An initial double dig is quite demanding, but in future years the job becomes easier.

The second most important element in an intensive organic garden is a close planting pattern. Close planting shades the soil, keeping it cooler and moister for good root growth, and discourages the growth of weeds. Instead of planting in rows, use triangular or hexagonal spacing to maximize the number of plants that can be fit into the bed .

Catholic Community Gardens

Make use of those rounded edges. Also, consider intercropping. Carrots, for instance, can be planted in the spaces between lettuce. The lettuce will shade the soil and keep it moist, allowing for easier germination of the carrot seedlings. Then, when the lettuce is harvested for the season, the carrots will grow up and fill the space.

Through intercropping, two or more crops can grow in the same area of bed in a single season.

To maintain the fertility of the soil, intensive organic gardeners use crop rotation, cover cropping, and compost. Crop rotation means alternating plantings each year between heavy feeders (most vegetable crops), soil-building crops (such as nitrogen-fixing legumes) and light feeders (most root crops). More elaborate rotation schemes are possible.

Cover crops are soil-building crops that are not harvested, but are composted or tilled back into the soil. They can be part of a crop rotation, or can be used over winter to prevent soil erosion and improve fertility.


Ohio State Extension


Catholic Community GardensHay Bale Gardens

Each autumn our city holds a Fall Festival featuring a pumpkin patch nestled in a closed in area created by hundreds of hay bales. When the festival is over, residents can take home the hay bales. Soon after the autumn season is over, we find them at the curb ready to be picked up by the garbage trucks. What a waste!

Catholic Community GardensWe’ve taken bales apart and used the “books” of hay as a weed blocking foundation for garden paths, Their natural look is charming in an informal garden, keeping mud from your feet. You can add stepping stones or colored bark for color.

Breaking up the hay into loose mounds, you’ll find the perfect no-dig medium for growing potatoes. As the vines grow, just add more onto the top of the hills or rows.

Used in between rows of strawberries, you hay provides a weed mat and a medium for keeping fruits off the ground where they may rot.

If you have enough room, try planting cucumbers interspersed with beds of hay. Don’t tie them up, but allow the vines to sprawl naturally. Last year we raised hundreds of cucumbers from just two vines using this method and gave so many to the Church that they asked us to stop!Hay Bale Gardens – This is one of the best gardening ideas we have come across in a long time.

If you live in an urban setting or want to convert a concrete covered area into a garden without the trouble of breaking it up – think about hay bales.

Give a no-dig raised bed garden a jump start by outlining the area with hay bales.  Add garden waste to the center to build up layers as the years go by — and when you get to the point where it’s hard to bend over, you won’t have to worry. A terrific idea for a garden serving senior citizens or the physically challenged.


You can grow so much in a hay bale garden – lettuce, peas, flowers, strawberries and much more. Don’t limit yourself to planting just the top – tuck edible nasturtiums, creeping thyme or fragrant alyssum into the sides.

Catholic Community Gardens

Visit Nichols Garden Nursery for complete instructions on how to grow. While the photo above shows the start of a garden, imagine it covered with lush flowering herbs.

A great idea for stealth gardening!

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