Our Community Garden and Partnership with the Gary Rotary Club

Our Purpose:

Gary has become a “food desert” with limited access to grocery stores with fresh food.  Many Gary residents must resort to gas stations or mini-marts to purchase food in their neighborhoods.  Access to fresh vegetables is key to maintaining a healthy diet and lifestyle.   The St. Mary of the Lake Community Garden offers local residents a sunny space to grow fresh vegetables and herbs. Gardeners share information and produce, and are helping to build a local food network promoting healthy eating and growing fresh food.  The Gary Rotary Club Fresh Start Farm helps to fill this need by providing fresh produce to the St. Mary’s Food Pantry which distributes food to all those in need from the neighborhood and surrounding community, serving on average 100 families on a monthly basis, over 900 annually.

Our partnership further seeks to build awareness and enthusiasm for gardening and healthy eating through education and  community engagement.  We hope to inspire both youth and adults to participate in community gardens and urban farming as well as starting gardens of their own and to further help build a neighborhood network of local gardeners both youth and adult, those new to gardening as well as seasoned gardeners.

Joining with other community gardens and urban farms in Gary through the Gary Food Council and the Gary Urban Farm Initiative, Gary Rotary Fresh Start Farm and the St. Mary’s Community Garden are helping to build a network of local fresh vegetable producers and home gardeners.  Over time, as Gary rebuilds and revitalizes, the Fresh Start Farm and other urban farm start-ups will continue to play a role in the provision of locally grown produce that will not only support those in need but can be a source of business development and job creation as suppliers to new grocery stores, farmer’s markets, and restaurants.

Our Story:

St. Mary of the Lake Community Garden

In the fall of 2017, St. Mary of the Lake Parish and community volunteers began discussions about locating a community garden on the former football field of the long-closed St. Mary of the Lake Parish School.  The Parish Council voted to provide funding support along with matching funds from a community donor, to prepare and fence the garden space and build raised garden beds for use by residents.

Volunteers began construction of the community garden in March of 2018.  Gardeners were recruited through the Parish, social media, and friends. Gardeners pay a small yearly fee for a raised bed and soil amendments as needed. Community gardeners provide their own plants, seeds, and maintenance. In May of 2018 the garden had 11 gardeners and 20 raised beds. By the growing season of 2019 Community Garden had grown to 21 gardeners and 28 raised beds.  The St. Mary’s Community Garden also partners with the Lake County Purdue Extension to conduct community outreach and education programs on healthy eating and home gardening with adults and elementary students.

Gary Rotary Club Fresh Start Farm

In the spring of 2018, the Rotary Club of Gary wanted to do a local service project and voted to apply for a Rotary Club District Grant to construct an urban farm adjacent to the St. Mary of the Lake Community Garden.  The primary purpose of the Farm was to provide fresh produce for the monthly St. Mary of the Lake Food Pantry.  In July of 2018 the Gary Rotary Club was awarded a grant from the Rotary District Council which included a cash match from the Gary Rotary to construct the Gary Rotary Club Fresh Start Urban Farm in partnership with the St. Mary of the Lake Parish. St. Mary of the Lake Parish donated the land for the farm.   The farm was rototilled and fenced in July 2018 and volunteers planted, weeded, and harvested vegetables for the Food Pantry and other non-profit residential facilities in Gary.  Despite the late planting start, the Fresh Start Farm produced over 300 lbs of vegetables for the St. Mary of the Lake Food Pantry between August and October of 2018.

In 2019, community gardeners and Fresh Start Farm volunteers began working garden plots and the farm in April and May despite the record-breaking rainfall that flooded parts of the farm and required raising the farm area with additional soils, compost, and wood chips.  The farm was ready to plant in May and has since supplied over 1600 lbs. of greens, tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, squash, okra, eggplant, white and red potatoes, sweet potatoes, squash, and cabbage to the monthly St. Mary of the Lake Food Pantry.

In 2018 and 2019, additional support for farm and community garden supplies and soils has been provided by the St. Mary of the Lake Parish, the Miller Community Fund, the Porter County Master Gardeners Association, Legacy 19, the Gary Sanitary & Stormwater District, and a number of individual donors.  The Lake County Master Gardeners Association funded our gardening and healthy eating workshops for the local public and Marquette/Banneker Elementary School.  In 2020 the Miller Community Fund provided funding support to the Fresh Start food pantry farm for planting materials and a new irrigation system. We thank all of our funders, donors, and volunteers for their contributions to the success of our partnership efforts.

A Sustainable Future for the Partnership:

Gary Rotary Club and St. Mary of the Lake Parish Council and community volunteers and supporters plan to maintain and enhance our efforts to provide food access and healthy eating and gardening education and engagement efforts into the future.  Food Pantry patrons love the fresh produce from the farm and more residents have expressed interest in having their own community garden plots and gardening at home.  Adults and youth alike have enjoyed our seed starting and nutrition programs.  As the farm and garden space have become more well-known, community residents are stopping by to discuss gardening and volunteer their time.  We will continue our education work with Purdue Extension wellness educators and farm technicians.  We hope to enhance the farm and garden space to use as an outdoor classroom for learning and sharing.

The Community Garden provides individual plots to all parishioners as well as our neighbors in the general community.

If you are interested in joining the Community Garden, please contact St. Mary of the Lake office @ 219-938-1373