Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington

From the

Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane

Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302

Reclaimed garden spot produces food for bodies, food for souls

the Inland Register

(From the March 20, 2014 edition of the Inland Register)

The area behind Assumption of the Blessed Mary Church in Walla Walla is a beautiful space, bordered by a pristine stream that meanders on the edge of the property. Thorny blackberries engulfed the edges of the stream, and star thistles, a very invasive thorny weed, plagued the grasslands. Dying and infected black locust trees danced around the perimeter in a strange placement.

Although priests and parish councils had attempted to develop the area in years past, it remained unused. Grants and funding had proved scarce. The garden space finally got its roots when the local health department asked about a possible collaboration with the Catholic community in starting a type of community garden – including a $5,000 startup fee.

The initial plan was to build a vegetable garden to help supply the St. Vincent DePaul food bank. Father Pat Kerst, then pastor, agreed to bring the idea to the Assumption Council and the idea was accepted as a Tri-Parish collaboration between Assumption, St. Francis of Assisi, and St. Patrick in Walla Walla. Father Jeff Core, then parochial vicar in Walla Walla and chaplain at DeSales High School, eagerly volunteered to be the garden co-chair.

There was a problem with the funding application the health department submitted, so there were no funds to be given. Fundraising began for the vegetable garden – donation for each raised bed, a breakfast fundraiser, and special collections during Advent and Lent were earmarked for the garden project. In the meantime, while researching permits and other structures, it became clear the little stream was dedicated as a critical stream for the Columbia Basin Watershed. A spiritual guide suggested reading the 2001 Columbia River Pastoral Letter issued by the eight Catholic dioceses of the region, which proved a powerful point of meditation.

The garden area near Assumption Church, Walla Walla, includes space for contemplation, but also provides fresh produce for the food bank. (IR photos courtesy of Nancy Wenzel)

Trying to implement the direction of the pastoral letter brought a connection with the Tri-State Steelhead Association. A federal grant was offered to complete a streamside restoration, which would allow the stream to be converted into a healthy coverage of native plants and allow the parish community access to the stream. Father Core was instrumental in bringing this project to a starting point.

Beginning work on creating the vegetable garden necessitated clearing the stream of debris.

As plans formulated, a rosary walking garden was proposed as part of the project. Such a prayer walk had to be wheelchair accessible.

One day Father Core called to say the Mary statue was delivered for the garden – though no such statue was anticipated. The statue, he said, had been delivered to the rectory courtyard. Who donated the statue is still unknown.

Dave Konen donated cement for the project. Pat Rhoades, Konen’s brother-in-law, donates work as well, in memory of Konen’s recently-deceased father, Milton Konen.

During the summer of 2012 funds were raised to build 26 raised beds, install a fence with two arbors and, with the help and donations of Charlie Konen at Konen Rock Products, Dave Konen at Koncrete Industries, and Pat Rhoades Construction, the vegetable garden was completed and ready for planting.

The streamside progress continued with over 10 dump trucks loads being hauled away by Koncrete Industries. Assisting with streamside cleanup were Walla Walla University, Whitman College, AmeriCorps, Walla Walla Community College, Boy Scouts, and many parish volunteers – truly a community-wide event. St. Patrick parishioner Zach Pinney led the planting of 500 shrubs, trees and perrenials as part of his Eagle Scout project. A walking path was laid out through the streamside restoration while creating five sitting areas along the stream.

The rosary garden was poured in late January – red cement beads laid within gray concrete. The cross that stands at the beginning of the rosary walk was the cast iron cross that hung above the altar at Assumption for many years.

Water proved to be one of the largest challenges. The entire year of 2013 was seen with hoses and hand watering 26 vegetable beds, 660 feet of streamside restoration, and 26 trees, roses, and shrubs planted within the rosary walk. Those who watered at 4:30 a.m. with the sun rising over the neighboring vineyard and streams of light beaconing thru towering trees guarding the stream would never trade this trial of love. And as God always provides, the Blanc family graciously offered their service to finish the watering system in the spring of 2014.

The first public rosary was prayed with over 30 people attending, young and old. A member of St Patrick Parish and a St. Francis parishioner each led a decade. Another decade was prayed in Spanish, led by a family from St. Patrick. Assumption parishioners led the other two decades.

The project has grants from Walmart, Catholic Charities Spokane, Disney Family Fun Magazine, and the Carrie Welch Trust, and has been featured in Family Fun Magazine, National Catholic Reporter and the Walla Walla Union-Bulletin newspaper. Over 1,200 pounds of produce were delivered last summer, and the project anticipates providing even more fresh produce in 2014.

Today there are stone walls encasing the rosary walk with roses, bulbs, shrubs and flowering trees ready to burst forth. Espalier pear trees, weeping cherries, yellow and black magnolias, along with pink and white dogwoods, wait to offer their splendor for viewing.

One such shrub is the contorted hazelnut tree – it was selected to represent broken human nature but offered as hope of salvation in Jesus. While praying and deciding on the perfect placement for viewing, the hole was began and the dirt was smooth as butter. There was suddenly a loud thud, and another, and then a large chain was pulled out of the hole. The chain, seemingly fit for the plant going in the hole, was hung on the arbor next to the spot. A few days later, a wreath made of old barbed wire hung along with the chain.

A local artist, Lila Locati, is painting a near life-sized image of St. Kateri Tek- akwitha, the Mohawk Indian canonized in 2012, which will be installed on the site, honoring brothers and sisters of the Umatilla Tribe. Neighbors in the area have stopped by to offer help and encouragement and awe at what has been accomplished. This spring will see youth planting, with their probation officers, as the parish partners with Juvenile Justice Center and the Walla Walla County Health Department as part of the SNAPED program, which offers nutrition classes. The same will happen with a partnership with other churches; Young Life Teen Moms will get the same classes from the health department.

Visitors to the garden might see a young lady with tattoos and pink hair sitting for hours, neighborhood toddlers riding their trikes safely around the path, a Baptist women’s prayer group holding their Bible class, baldheaded women praying for healing, a group having a picnic – all of them echoes of last year’s visitors.

The garden is called “The Song,” its own kind of melody, rising up in praise of God.

A “rosary walk” provides space for prayer.

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