Schools, including high schools, are places where seeds are planted and young minds grow and mature. That is certainly the case with Msgr. Bonner and Archbishop Prendergast Catholic High School in Drexel Hill.
This year in addition to young minds there are tomatoes, eggplants, cucumbers, peppers, okra, squash, zucchini and greens.
They are the produce of the Upper Darby Community Garden and although it is located on the property of the archdiocesan high school, the project is really a concerted effort that draws Bonner-Prendie into the wider community for the benefit of both.
The garden is expected to be in operation each year from early spring until first frost.
Though the first plantings are already sharing their abundance, the official ribbon cutting took place on Tuesday, Aug. 7, with Bonner-Prendie President Dr. John Cooke and other school officials joined by Pastor Dave Shaheen, executive director of the Upper Darby Community Outreach Corp. (UDCOC), Upper Darby Mayor Thomas Miccozzie, organizers Stacey and Sean McNicholl and scores of volunteers and friends.
The garden itself, tucked into a fenced-in corner of the school property, comprises 33 rows each 50 feet long, and may expand in the future.
“Once school starts we hope to get the students involved,” Cooke said. “We have a Christian service project here and we are hoping to get some of our students involved in their community service through this. It is a great opportunity for them. We are also getting our science projects and arts program involved.”
The garden is staffed by volunteers who share in the produce that is grown, as do Aid For Friends, the St. Vincent de Paul Society at Blessed Virgin Mary Parish, Darby, and other area food banks.
The idea for a community garden was the brainchild of local sustainable agriculture advocates Stacey and Sean McNicholl, who operate nearby Greenhorn Gardens. They took the idea to Pastor Shaheen, who is the retired pastor of Christ Lutheran Church. He saw the value of it and approached Cooke, who readily agreed.
“Our kids from UDCOC are involved,” Pastor Shaheen said. “It’s a good community project and I’m learning a lot about agriculture myself.”
The McNicholls themselves got involved in sustainable agriculture in an interesting way. Although they are long-time area residents, Sean has family roots in Ireland and he spent five years with family in County Donegal, and it was there that he fell in love with farming. Luckily he has a wife who shares his passion.
“I think it is important to emphasize this is phase one of the garden,” said Stacey, who hopes to see the garden as a first of many. “By offering a piece of communal green space the garden hopes to invite community members to a moment of respite from the urban density and offer a brief communion with nature.
“The garden builds community,” she said, “by offering the opportunity for neighbors and people from various walks of life to join together in an activity that increases knowledge and promotes volunteerism and encourages physical, mental and spiritual wellness.”
Because school has not yet started, youthful volunteers at the ribbon cutting ceremony were mostly drawn from area summer programs.
Among the vegetable pickers this day were Marcus Solomon, a student at Beverly Hills Junior High School and Uri Mack, of Upper Darby High School.
“I’m doing this to help the community,” Marcus said. “It helps the environment and everything around us.”
As for Uri, “I always wanted to grow vegetables, to see them grow and see nature,” he said.
Representing Bonner-Prendie students at the ceremony was Trinity Morett, an incoming junior whose contribution was creating the explanatory signage.
“This is Upper Darby and our Catholic schools coming together,” she said. “A lot of people walk by and they can see what we are doing. This is neat and it is awesome that we can do it with local partners.”
Maybe that’s the best adjective. Awesome it truly is.