St. Paul connects gardens, youth

Staff Writer

The congregation of St. Paul and the Redeemer Church spent Sunday afternoon celebrating the culmination of its summer camp in a garden that children in the Hyde Park area helped cultivate.

The food garden was built in 2012 with support from KAM Isaiah Israel’s congregation through a grant from the Chicago Community Trust. Each year produce from the St. Paul garden is distributed to programs such as St. Martin de Porres Women’s Shelter, Kenwood Open Kitchen, Corpus Christi Catholic Church and Living Room Café.

For the past two years St. Paul, 4945 S. Dorchester Ave., has allowed children from its Vacation Bible Camp to help tend to the garden. This year over 60 children spent their mornings learning how to plant seeds and grow organic produce and why the fruit and vegetables that come from the garden are important to consume.

“For many this was their first experience seeing where fruit and vegetables come from and learning that they are not just found in the grocery store,” said Heidi Olliff, director of Children’s Formation at St. Paul and the Redeemer.

She said some of the children said they didn’t like vegetables but since they started growing them on their own they are now “devouring” the lettuce, carrots, zucchini, kale, tomatoes and other vegetable and herbs that are growing in the garden.

Peter Lane, lead pastor at St. Paul and the Redeemer said the garden has revived the congregation and connected the church more meaningfully to the community.

“Our goal is to mirror the radical hospitality shown to us by Jesus.” Lane said. “The garden attracts those who are interested in gardening that may not otherwise come to the church.”

Lane said the church is trying to create porous boundaries with its neighbors.

“I thought we were going to just harvest fruit and learn how to make them grow but we have been connecting the garden to stories in the Bible,” said 10-year-old Teagan Bigger.

The story of Ruth, the Israelites’ 40-year journey in the wilderness and parables of the Mustard See and the Good Shepherd, are just some of the stories used as parallels to the work the students did in the garden.

Jim Schaal, member and co-chair of the garden ministry of St. Paul and the Redeemer said the children have also been learning about food deserts, communities that do not have moderate access to grocery stores that offer fresh fruit and vegetables.

Bigger and 10-year-old Michael Stewart both have experience working in gardens at home and at school and said they realize it’s important to help other communities.

Stewart said it was nice to use what he’s learned help others get access to produce.