Master Gardeners nourish souls, tend spirits

As they have in recent years, youth at Catholic Charities’ Saint Joseph’s Home for Children have the opportunity to spend time in the garden not only nourishing the soil and tending plants, but nourishing souls and tending spirits.

This summer, they’re doing this work not only with Catholic Charities’ Pastor Amy Teske, but a group of Master Gardeners who have been coming out to teach the youth about gardening.

“I have found the garden to be one of the most healing and therapeutic places on the St. Joe’s campus. I love the energy and enthusiasm the clients—and the staff—have when they see the master gardeners pull up and walk toward the garden. The kids know them, welcome them and ask, ‘What are we going to taste today?’,” Teske said.

It’s a large, ambitious garden on the campus of Saint Joseph’s Home for Children. If every plant has a possibility, then the garden at St. Joe’s is a goldmine. The list of produce is long and incomplete; they’re growing potatoes, beets, broccoli, cabbage, kale, collard greens, Swiss chard, tomatoes, rhubarb, cucumbers, pumpkins, strawberries, herbs and flowers, among other things.

The Master Gardeners include individuals from all walks of life and are a great resource for the youth. The group includes Carla Kilkelly, a Catholic Charities’ volunteer who sews dignity quilts for the Pastoral Care department, a math teacher, nurses and a retired psychiatrist.

Master Gardener Randy Rau comes out to garden with the kids every Monday and Wednesday.

“It’s a challenge. They’re kids and they’re easily distracted,” he said. “We’re trying to teach patience and ask questions like ‘why does that grow?’ We talk about good bugs and bad bugs. They really are great kids.”

The Master Gardeners’ message is not just about gardening, but healthful food choices, healthy lives and creativity. Youth who are not interested in gardening, used their artistic skills to paint plant identifiers. Others built a cucumber teepee. There is space for all in the garden.

“Through the fun games, stories and activities, our kids have learned how to care for the garden plants, the environment and themselves,” Teske said. “The favorite part for our youths is sampling garden produce fresh from the garden and making recipes in the Kids’ Kitchen, including delicious kale chips, dinosaur kale smoothies and dill dip.”

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