success stories

Catholic school students develop green thumbs over summer

By Peggy Weber
Catholic News Service

The new school year is well under way at Immaculate Conception School in Indian Orchard, but for a group of loyal students summertime did not offer a complete break from school.

They weren't there to study, but to participate in a special project: the Immaculate Conception Garden Club.

From June until the growing season was over, club members arrived once a week to weed, haul and harvest. Even before that, the students in grades five through eight did some planting and painted the fence that surrounds the 30-by-40-foot plot of land.

Scott Lozyniak, president of the club, rode his bike four miles to prune some of the 36 tomato plants, pick some radishes and weed.

It gave him something to do, he said. "And I like watching the things grow and being with my friends," he told The Catholic Observer, newspaper of the Springfield Diocese.

He said that as president it was his responsibility to call the members of the club and make sure they came on their scheduled day.

Starting in the spring, Lozyniak and 14 members of the club were active in a garden that produced tomatoes, radishes, peppers, eggplants, sunflowers, pole beans, yellow and purple string beans, turnips, pumpkins, summer and winter squash, cucumbers, herbs and flowers.

The garden club was the brainstorm of Felician Sister Mary Rosalma Fish, Immaculate Conception's principal.

The school had applied for a grant for the garden project, but when they didn't get it, the principal's sister, Rosetta Grimm, said she wanted to fund the project as a gift in memory of their parents -- Marshall and Elizabeth Fish. Grimm donated $1,000, which paid for the fencing and other expenses.

The Fishes had a dairy and produce farm in Canaan, Maine, years ago and loved gardening.

"My father was always growing vegetables and my mother would always grow flowers. They were always giving (them) away. They believed you have to give to someone in need," said Sister Fish.

The school's gardeners followed that example, giving the excess produce not only to the children but to parish shut-ins, needy families and local food pantries.

"When sister approached me, I thought it was a great idea to give the kids an alternative to video games and such -- to get them out in the fresh air and sunshine and get their hands in the dirt and nurture seeds from start to maturity," said Ed Napierski, school custodian, who worked with the garden club all summer.

In addition to giving the kids something to do, he said it also taught them more about vegetables. He pointed out that when he was in college he met a fellow student who didn't know that French fries came from a potato.

Father Adrian Benoit, pastor of Immaculate Conception, agreed that the educational aspect of gardening is important.

"In the past, the children's grandparents and great-grandparents had gardens to help them out. Today, the parents are often too busy to have gardens around the house. So we provide that experience as an educational tool for them," he said.

Recalling his own gardening lessons when he was young, he said he picked string beans in a local field for 25 cents a bushel.

"That was probably the hardest job I ever had," he said.

Sister Fish recalled picking string beans for a penny a pound.

Gardening brings out a wealth of joys and memories, according to Sister Fish, who wanted to provide that experience for her students.

She said the garden is named "Angela's Garden" in honor of her community's foundress, Blessed Mary Angela Truszkowska, who loved gardening and used to grow flowers for the altar for many years.

"We felt this was the proper way to reward her," she said, "and to recognize how she would also give things to the poor."

This year's bounty from the garden was great, and Sister Fish hopes it will yield the same abundance for years to come.