‘Garden for All’ Episcopal ministry alleviates hunger in central Ohio

By Shireen Korkzan
Posted Aug 3, 2023

Volunteers tend to the Garden for All at All Saints Episcopal Church in New Albany, Ohio. Photo: The Garden for All/via Facebook

[Episcopal News Service] When Catherine Duffy and her husband Shawn read about the growing usage of local food pantries by people who were losing their jobs in the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, they felt compelled to help somehow.

They had started a creation care ministry at their parish, All Saints Episcopal Church in New Albany, Ohio — a suburb of the capital, Columbus — in 2019, but they “didn’t have a lot of energy behind” the small community garden they had set up until the pandemic made them realize how much more they could do for their community with the church’s eight acres of land.

“What does it mean, if we really believe that the church is not the building? What does that look like? The churches were closed at the time … but there’s a lot of opportunity to grow community in other ways,” said Duffy, now a full-time seminarian at Bexley Seabury Seminary.

The ministry expanded the no-till garden, which ultimately produced 750 pounds of organic vegetables in the 2020 growing season, all donated to local food pantries in Franklin County. In 2021, the vegetable garden — now called the Garden for All — expanded, and volunteers planted a wider variety of vegetables. A variety of lettuces and peppers, as well as tomatoes, summer and winter squashes, beets, radishes, eggplants, carrots, sweet potatoes and more are growing in the gardens. Duffy told Episcopal News Service that lettuce is one of the biggest requests from the food pantries, so this year volunteers planted 4,000 heads of different lettuce cultivars and have so far donated 1,000 pounds.

“One head of lettuce can go a long way; if you harvest them right, they’ll grow back, and if someone takes home a head of lettuce, that’s a week’s worth of lettuce,” Duffy said. “The pantries also ask for kale, Swiss chard, collard greens, and arugula and mustard greens as well, since they’re really nutrient-dense.”

[perfectpullquote align=”right” bordertop=”false” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””] The Episcopal Church seeks to connect Episcopalians and others around gardening and growing food through its Good News Gardens movement. [/perfectpullquote]

The Garden for All ministry donates its produce to several food pantries in Franklin County, where neighborhoods have a “food imbalance,” or “where accessing less nutritious food may be the easiest option.” Statewide, the need for food assistance is bigger than Ohio’s $30 million annual budget for food banks, especially now as inflation has increased the cost of eggs, meat and other staple foods.

“We know that we’re never going to end hunger completely, but we still can’t do nothing. This garden ministry is something we can do right now to help,” Duffy said. “But we’re not just going to give away cheap crap, because serving healthier food with more nutrients means you’re undoing some of the systemic injustice that exists in our healthcare system by helping people be healthier and happier overall. I want everyone to know that you all deserve the healthiest food because you are a child of God.”

The Garden for All also started growing assorted flowers to attract pollinators, including sunflowers, zinnias and snapdragons, in 2021. After the flowers bloomed, volunteers cut some of them to make bouquets and donated them to the food pantries as well. The feedback from food pantry patrons was positive.

“They were so pleased because fresh flowers aren’t something they can necessarily spend their own money on,” Duffy said. “Everyone deserves to have beautiful flowers, not just rich people.”

Since 2021, the Garden for All has given away more than 20,000 pounds of fresh produce and more than 750 pounds of fresh flowers to local food pantries, Duffy said. She estimates that, currently, the vegetable garden takes up half an acre while a quarter of an acre is dedicated to wildflowers for pollinators, and a 10th of an acre is dedicated to cut flowers for bouquets. The ministry will soon add a greenhouse to continue growing produce during the wintertime.

In 2022, the Garden for All began receiving more attention outside the All Saints’ community, and more people started inquiring about volunteering. Today, nearly 200 people have volunteered for the ministry, and the garden has already yielded double the amount of produce so far this summer than previous years. Duffy told ENS that friendships have developed among volunteers working together for a mutual cause. “The Holy Spirit is obviously doing something here,” she said.

“We hope people understand that The Episcopal Church believes in this work, that what we do on Sundays is important and what we do outside of Sunday mornings is important,” Duffy said. “We are here to be in service to God — serving God by serving each other and by being in relationship with creation.”

-Shireen Korkzan is a reporter and assistant editor for Episcopal News Service. She can be reached at skorkzan@episcopalchurch.org.