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St. Vincent de Paul Garden in Phoenix Serves and Inspires

Jeph Harris, Jim Dennis, Tony Kasowski, David Smith, Ted Eisenheimer at The St. Vincent de Paul Garden in South Phoenix
Jeph Harris, Jim Dennis, Tony Kasowski, David Smith, Ted Eisenheimer at The St. Vincent de Paul Garden in South Phoenix
Kate Crowley

About a month ago, one of our favorite growing Instagrammers, Tony Kasowski, (@TonyGrowsFood) posted this update along with photos:

"Spent the morning at St. Vincent De Paul Watkins campus, building garden beds, and harvesting chard with some amazing people! Also got an opportunity to tour the facility which provides over 4,000 meals daily, and over 400,000 food boxes yearly. On top of that there is an incredible array of resources including a dental clinic, showers, spiritual guidance and more. So stoked to be a small part of such an awesome organization."

After that, we had to find out what was growing at the campus, just off the I-17 in South Phoenix.

See also: 5 Metro Phoenix Growers and Farmers to Follow on Instagram

The garden's rainbow chard stands greet new volunteers with volumes of color. Kasowski and Jim Dennis started this project in November 2013 and in just a short time it's become a raging success. The garden is currently growing citrus, swiss chard, radish, kale, artichoke, celery, lettuce, beets, and hibiscus. They've already harvest over 100 pounds of chard from the garden.

All of it will be used in the kitchen at St. Vincent de Paul and in the extended community. The project is fueled by passionate volunteers of all ages and is modeled after a similar garden Dennis and Kasowski helped out with at another St. Vincent de Paul campus in the Valley. The core volunteer crew of five people has created some raised beds by mixing top soil, mulch, composted manure, free pulp from Kaleidoscope Juice and letting it all compost down.

The cold-press juicers help begin the "breakdown" process, and the pulp adds micro-organisms to help feed the plants; this partnership with the local juice bar is a perfectly timed development. Another hint: Kasowski recommends mixing a bit of molasses in with the water if you use fish emulsion in your garden. The garden uses many permaculture techniques, but as Kasowski says "we're doing what we can, with what we've got . . . we've got materials, time and knowledge."

The group seems to plan as they go, nothing is too formal -- but these guys know what they are doing. Kasowski is a marketer has a personal business called Grow Kale, and you've probably met Jim Dennis if you've wandered over to Baker's Nursery or taken a class at Boho Farm. Ted Elsenheimer is a reverend at a local church and helps sell produce at an affordable price to his community and Jeph Harris is another marketer who is a dedicated volunteer who has cultivated knowledge of how to get things done in the garden. Nancy, Elsenheimer's wife helps out, too.

Mid-morning on a Tuesday, Kasowski and crew begin work building new beds, planting, watering and fertilizing. It's hard to believe this garden was started with just a few eggplants. Everyone is jovial, enjoying the cool weather, sun, and juice samples. For the most part, the garden was created and is staffed by volunteers. Moctar, a refugee farmer who works at St. Vincent de Paul, is a vital part of the campus and offers tips from his own experiences growing.

 

Hand tools like shovels and wheelbarrows, with the exception of a rototiller and anything that is donated, are used in the garden. Certainly more could be done with some big equipment but large strides have been made working with what is available. This new garden is definitely supported by the nonprofit it benefits. Their goal is to "Feed, clothe, house, and heal deeply and meaningfully." There are obvious benefits to growing food on site and the garden is also the physical embodiment of a functional, cooperative venture.

As Kasowski gives a tour of the area he mentions David Smith, chief operations officer for St. Vincent de Paul (and former Maricopa County manager) who gave the go-ahead to get growing in this new garden. The stars align and Smith shows up at the garden about 9:30 a.m. He asks about a possible leak problem with the irrigation system. Kasowski, the problem solver says he knows a fix-it guy who will donate his time if he can get the parts.

Smith immediately says, "Go ahead and do it and tell me what the parts cost and we'll get you a check." It seems the garden has become a point of pride for everyone involved. Everyone is dedicated, knowledgeable, and willing to volunteer; and they're doing real work. This folks, is how nonprofits make programs like the garden work.

This garden location hopes to eventually have the success other locations have had and expand to teach gardening techniques to those at St. Vincent de Paul who would like to learn a trade. There are plans for more beds, a special area for potatoes, nut trees, and a shaded area on a concrete pad to make table level gardens and a planting area accessible to those in wheelchairs. Kasowski thinks music and yoga in the garden are possibilities as well.

You can volunteer in the garden by contacting Max Goshert at mgoshert@svdp-PHX-AZ.org.

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