Initiative helps the needy, sponsors upcoming green fair

HOLLIDAYSBURG – The Monastery Community Gardens are buzzing with colorful blooms and fresh produce seemingly in anticipation for its upcoming hosting duties.

The Care for Creation Initiative is sponsoring the Summer Bounty Green Fair from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Aug. 3 at the gardens.

The C4C initiative, which began in 2008 at St. Bernardine’s Monastery, oversees the community gardens project, which promotes environmental responsibility while spreading the vision of St. Francis of Assisi, who saw all creatures as family, through the sharing of land and spiritual heritage with the community, according to a fair information pamphlet.

“At least to me the first thing that I would hope for was that people just enjoy the beauty and the abundance of this creation here,” Brother John Kerr, a liaison between the friars and the initiative and a C4C advisory board member, said of the fair.

It will hopefully bring all walks of life in the community together to “enjoy a day of beauty, of fun, possibly learning something about how they can live healthier lives,” he said.

Festivities will include fair food, kids activities and garden tours, said Dotty Caminiti, fair chairwoman and advisory board member.

The garden tours are given “in hopes [of inspiring] others to maybe want to get interested themselves in growing produce,” which is becoming more popular, said advisory board chairwoman Kim Zeiss.

Vendors signed on as of Tuesday included PA Clean Way of Blair County, Intermunicipal Relations Committee and the Blair County Conservation District. Exhibits for learning movement to heal one’s body will also be on hand.

The C4C have held summer and fall festivals for the last few years, but this is the first time it has combined a green fair with the annual Summer Bounty Festival, said Pat Trimble, advisory board member and retired Penn State Master Gardener.

The community gardens, which take up about an acre and a half of the monastery’s land, are open to area gardeners and families for lease.

Annually a 30-by-30 foot garden plot costs $30 and a 30-by-15 foot plot is $20, Trimble said.

From the start of the C4C initiative, what they wanted “was to share our land with others,” said Kerr.

Gardener and advisory board member Jim Yeager manages the community gardens’ donation plots. Produce grown in those plots goes to those in need.

Last year, more than 2,000 pounds of fresh produce was donated, Kerr said.

The produce growing in the donation plots currently includes sweet potatoes, peas, green beans and pumpkins, some of which will get carved at the C4C’s annual Fall Harvest Festival.

Part of C4C’s mission statement is to grow produce for the needy, and they encourage their gardeners to donate their extra produce, Yeager said.

New additions are under way and on the horizon for the gardens.

Last summer, Blair County Prisoners began helping work the land.

Since the end of May, a work-release type program has permitted Cathy Schwartz, advisory board member and Penn State Master Gardener, to have prisoners volunteer at the gardens.

“They just relish the fact that they’re out here in the sunshine, in the fresh air, for six or eight hours, depending on how long I have them here,” Schwartz said of the prisoners she takes out to work alongside her.

The prisoners have been “immensely helpful,” Zeiss said.

As for what’s coming, a grant will eventually provide the community gardens with a 100-by-30 foot high-tunnel greenhouse to allow the gardens to produce during off-season months, Yeager said.

Volunteers and donations for the project are needed, he said. Kerr Landscaping &?Maintenance Inc., in Altoona is volunteering time and labor for project construction.

In the meantime, the community gardens continue to serve the community in more than one way.

The land is a place where many gardeners and visitors sense God’s presence in the healing and nurturing they feel there, Kerr said in an email.

“The wonder of growing plants makes us co-creators with God and offers a spirit of community when doing it together,” he said. “It gives us all a chance to slow down and breathe in what we often miss in our hectic lives. Our fair offers us the time to extend that spirit of community throughout our central Pennsylvania area.”

Mirror Staff Writer Amanda Gabeletto is at 949-7030.