But ask the animals, and they will teach you,
or the birds in the sky, and they will tell you;
or speak to the earth, and it will teach you,
or let the fish in the sea inform you.
Which of all these does not know
that the hand of the Lord has done this?
Job 12:7-9

Once again, the diocesan Social Justice and Outreach (SJO) Committee will offer grants to fund garden initiatives for 2015. In recent years, several local groups have developed vegetable gardens to help meet the needs of urban and suburban residents who have limited access to fresh produce and healthy food options. For the last two years, the diocesan SJO Committee has offered a few small grants to support the efforts of creating and sustaining parish-based vegetable gardens. Four grants were given in 2013, and in 2014, six gardens received grants. The increase in the number of garden grants was made possible by donations from St. Paul’s, Mount Lebanon, Outreach Commission as well as a private donor in order to supplement the limited SJO annual budget. The SJO notes that any parishes desiring to donate to this effort should contact the Nancy Lapp, chair of SJO. 

In 2014, three new gardens and three established gardens received funding. St. Brendan’s, Franklin Park, started a new garden, Garden of Hope, and contributed produce to the North Hills Food Bank, Bethlehem Haven, and Miryam’s Place. In addition, the youth participated in a Saturday night Abundant Life garden project. At St. Stephen’s, Wilkinsburg, the congregation had started a garden previously, and new SJO funding helped build additional raised beds and purchase tools to use for the summer youth project, Teens and Greens. Produce was donated to the Wilkinsburg Community Ministry food distribution center. The third new garden was at Church of the Holy Cross, Homewood. 

Three gardens funded by SJO in both 2013 and 2014 continued to flourish. At Sheldon Calvary Camp, the campers engaged in garden education, maintenance, and harvest, and the vegetables were used for camp meals. In addition, a flock of chickens was added for egg production, natural pest control, and educational experiences. At Shepherd’s Wellness in Bloomfield, the garden growing area and variety of plants were expanded, and members received training and produce to create healthy meals. In addition, the produce and herbs grown were often used to prepare their Friday evening Wellness Dinners. At the Spring Street Farm, run by the Community of Celebration and Church Army in Aliquippa, the garden was used as part of the Aliquippa Impact summer youth program, and during visits from Church Army mission teams. The garden has been enlarged, and some of the garden space has been converted to community use. Produce is donated to various outlets and to the Uncommon Grounds Cafe. 

Applying for a garden grant: These grants are intended to support Episcopal parishes and organizations in the Diocese of Pittsburgh to create new vegetable gardens or to support already functioning gardens with small material needs such as: seed or plant purchases, fencing, bed construction, soil or fertilizer purchases, soil testing costs, hand tool purchases, water connections, rain barrels, etc. Depending on the location and circumstance, we expect that produce grown will be distributed through local food pantries or organization-based outreach efforts. These grants are not intended to support an exclusive or private garden, nor a garden designed solely for decorative purposes. We have prepared a guide to setting up a small garden; this guide is available HERE. Should your garden be selected, implementation will be in late winter/early spring, 2015. 

The maximum grant request for this program should be no more than $500. Funds are to be used in the calendar year 2015 unless an extension is submitted and approved by the SJO committee. Priority will be given to those applications that seek to start new gardens, but the committee will also consider applications seeking to sustain existing gardens that meet the eligibility described in the application. Application forms are available HERE (Word doc) and are due via mail postmark or electronically by March 15, 2015. Any questions regarding eligibility can be directed to Nancy Lapp, Chair of SJO at nlapp@pts.edu or Pat Eagon at pkeagon@gmail.com.