As the growing season waned in late October, Sister Lyn Szymkiewicz and volunteer Alice Valoski harvested the last 12 pounds of romaine lettuce from a garden on the grounds of the Sisters of St. Joseph. Some of the lettuce would be delivered to the local food bank, some would be tossed as salad in the Sisters’ dining room, and the wilted, brown leaves would be fed to the resident chickens.
Since 2009, Alice has volunteered alongside Sister Lyn – planting, mulching, weeding, watering and harvesting the produce from the two community gardens and the Sisters’ garden on the Motherhouse property. Alice of Sewickley was one of the first local residents to sign up to tend a raised bed in Miriam’s garden, the first of the two community gardens.
While visiting a friend at Villa St. Joseph, Alice picked up a flyer promoting the gardens and was immediately drawn to participating.
“I enjoy gardening and wanted to help others who might not have access to fresh nutritious food,” she says. “Often times, food that is donated to food banks and soup kitchens is high in calories with few nutrients.”
Alice, a registered dietitian who grew up with family gardens, appreciates and values the multiple benefits of community gardens:
“Community gardens encourage food security and a sense of community by giving people an opportunity to work together to grow their own food or food that can be shared with others. These gardens can improve the health of participants by increasing their consumption of fresh produce and increasing their physical activity by working in the garden. People who participate learn how to grow their own food.”
At an early age, Alice got her hands dirty in the garden. “When I was a child my family always had a garden. We ate fresh vegetables from the garden during spring, summer, and fall. Then we canned or froze the excess for winter. As a child I don’t think I appreciated how fortunate I was to have fresh, home grown veggies.”
Alice recalls the generosity of her uncle who was always quick to share “extra” produce with friends and neighbors. That spirit of kindness resonates with Alice, who each growing season donates between 100 and 200 pounds of produce from Miriam’s Garden to local food banks and soup kitchens.
“Alice’s successful harvests of produce witness to her superb gardening skills,” says Sister Lyn, who is Director of Grounds and Eco Projects for the Sisters.