Parishioners of Our Lady of Nazareth Catholic Church plan to grow 2,400 pounds of produce to donate to local food pantries and charities this summer.

The produce will grow in their newly expanded “Giving Garden.”

The garden began three years ago to address food deserts in the Roanoke Valley, said Coy O’Connor, a member of the Giving Garden committee leadership.

“The whole purpose of the garden is to provide sustainable food to the disadvantaged people in the valley,” he said.

In the first year, the garden was about 140 square feet and produced about 60 pounds of food. Last year more parishioners started volunteering with the garden and grew nearly 400 pounds of produce.

The produce is all donated to the St. Francis food pantry and the RAM House, where the parish’s priest, the Rev. Monsignor Joseph Lehman, is a board member. The donations are a huge help to these charities.

“We may be the only meal somebody gets in a day,” said Geralynn Trellue, the volunteer coordinator at RAM House. “So having fresh vegetables to put on the menu is very good for the health and nutrition of the guests who come here.”

The increase in produce this year may mean other charities receive fresh food from the parish as well.

“If we give them more than they can handle, we are looking at alternate locations. We just have to see what production is like,” said Catherine Black, another garden leadership member.

Garden volunteers started planting in the new garden June 2 and will continue harvesting through October. It will grow produce such as tomatoes, several types of peppers, eggplants, squash, carrots, beans and cantaloupe.

“We want to get the basic vegetables that people will want to get,” Black said. “No one wants exotic, they want the basic, nutritious produce for their families.”

The original garden sits beside the rector’s house. The expanded garden sits on the west side of the church parking lot. Construction on the garden finished this week with the installation of a water spigot to clean off vegetables and tools.

The total cost for the garden was about $18,000. O’Connor said most of the cost came from the wood required to build 34 2-foot-high plant beds.

“We wanted to make something that large to be reasonable to maintain,” Black said. “It is a lot easier to plant and weed a 2-foot-high bed.”

Parishioners also hired a company to install an 8-foot metal fence around the garden to keep out wildlife and another company to install an irrigation system in the garden.

Most of the funds to build the expanded garden were paid out of the parish budget, donated or covered by local grants. The Rev. Brent Williams from Colonial Presbyterian Church donated $500 from his budget. He also wrote a letter of endorsement for a $900 grant provided by Two-Cents-A-Meal, a national ministry of the Presbyterian Church USA.

“We are thrilled people have been as supportive as they have,” said Cyndy Unwin, chair of the garden committee.

Despite the community support, parishioners will still have to hold fundraising events to cover future expenses.

“We know that we have to put some money in the coffers for any kind of maintenance work and planting,” Black said.

The garden committee is planning an open house in mid-July but a date has not been set yet. They plan to sell T-shirts and baked goods to help raise money for future expenses. Unwin said the dedication of the garden will also happen during the open house.

While there is room on the property to continue expanding the garden, there are no plans to do so for now.

“It is going to depend on both supply and demand,” O’Connor said. “How much we are going to need to provide and how much we can get out of it.”

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