KENNEDYVILLE — Volunteers prepped, planted and watered new bushes and trees installed as part of a growing community garden project at Shrewsbury Parish Church earlier this month.

The team of planters — parishioners and community members — were out Sunday afternoon, Oct. 18 to install a permaculture area of bushes and trees including aronia, elderberry, hazelnut, persimmon, chestnut, pecan and plum.

The new perennials will serve as a complement to the vegetable garden plots planted in the spring and summer, the first phase of the expanding community garden at the historic Episcopal church located near Kennedyville.

“In the midst of the whole pandemic, this has been a morale builder,” said the Rev. Henry Sabetti of the community garden project during the Oct. 18 planting session. “It’s been fantastic.”

The community garden began in May with 10 plots established behind the parish hall. Seed money came from a grant through the Easton diocese.

“It came to the fore through a process we were involved in called ‘Sacred Places, Sacred Spaces,’ which is a program that churches in the Diocese of Easton participated in to look at how to use historical sites to reach out to the wider community,” Sabetti said.

Bob O’Connell is a member of the Shrewsbury vestry and chairman of the community garden committee.

On Oct. 18, he spoke about how initial proposals would have taken 2 acres of a soybean field the church owns and turned it into a massive community garden. He said the committee scaled those plans back to start with the 10 plots behind the parish hall with the potential for expansion.

O’Connell said it all got underway at the end of May, when folks coming in and tilling the plots. Four parishioners took the end plots of the garden area. O’Connell reached out to the Bayside HOYAS (Helping Our Youth Achieve Success) leadership and they opted to take the other six plots.

“We were actually looking for a way to teach about nutrition from the ground to the plate, so to speak,” said John Queen, president and co-founder of the HOYAS, in an Oct. 20 interview. “We were just trying to set up the program to implement that part.”

Leaders and members of the youth group took advantage of the invitation and joined the community garden. They came out in July to plant.

The expansion effort Oct. 18 was spearheaded by Macon Foscue, whose family has long been connected with Shrewsbury.

“I heard about this community garden that was happening and thought about how it would be great to have perennials going along with the annuals,” he said.

Foscue studied permaculture, which he said focuses in part on selecting “edible plants that grow in harmony.” He said once they are established in the soil, they require less maintenance than the annual gardens many people plant in their backyards.

O’Connell said they thought about planting apple and peach trees, but quickly learned that the upkeep on such trees may be more than the volunteer corps of community gardeners would be prepared to tackle.

O’Connell said the trees planted Oct. 18 will take several years to really get established, but when they begin to yield fruit, it will be made available to the community.

With two phases of the community garden complete, O’Connell and Sabetti are already looking ahead to a third phase — beekeeping.

Sabetti has long had an interest in beekeeping and is currently taking a course on it from Penn State Extension.

“Hopefully next spring we’ll be able to set up hives,” Sabetti said.

O’Connell said the hives would be located toward the back of the cemetery. He said there will be additional wildflower plantings around the church property to help support the bees.

Also, O’Connell said there is space to expand the community vegetable garden plots behind the parish.

“If we can find enough people,” he said, “we’ll have room for 15 more plots.”

O’Connell said growers keep what they want of their yields. He said donations also are made to local food banks.

Queen said his family has been enjoying the vegetables they grew at Shrewsbury: peppers, cucumbers, greens, tomatoes and more.

For him, though, the benefits extend beyond the garden’s bounty. He said it is great to see the church open up and accept the community through efforts like the garden.

“They’ve been very gracious as hosts,” Queen said, noting that those at the church provided soil, seeds and assistance with planting. “It’s been great. I’m glad they reached out to the HOYAS and asked us to be a part of it.”

O’Connell said the church welcomes anyone to join the community garden. He wants it to remain open to community members.

“It’s not just for the parish. It’s for the community. It’s called a ‘community garden’ and we’re going to try to keep it that way,” he said.

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