March 2, 2023
The Sister St. Mark Garden Fund helps community gardens to flourish and fulfills the Sisters' mission of unity with God and neighbor.
The Sisters of St. Joseph of Baden, PA, this year have awarded grants to 14 community gardens in the region to help them reduce food insecurity and provide fresh produce to families in their neighborhoods.
Among the 2023 grant recipients are Peace and Friendship Farm in the Hill District neighborhood in the City of Pittsburgh, which will add six raised gardens to provide fruits and vegetables to low-income African Americans who do not access to a supermarket; Christ the King Parish Creation Care Team, which will purchase supplies for a garden to help provide fresh produce to a local food pantry in Sharpsburg; and GetBlok Farms to help provide year-round produce to local communities such as West Aliquippa through hydroponic gardening.
“By promoting sustainability in our neighborhoods, we are also building relationships among collaborators who share in our values and appreciate the bounty of Earth,” says Sister Lyn Szymkiewicz, a member of the Sisters of St. Joseph Leadership Team who planted the seed for the establishment of the Sister St. Mark Garden Fund.
Since 2019, the Sister St. Mark Garden Fund has awarded 43 grants totaling $30,100. This year’s grant recipients are:
- BF Jones Memorial Library, Aliquippa
- Christ the King Parish Creation Team, Aspinwall
- Fern Hollow Nature Center, Sewickley
- Garfield Community Farm, Pittsburgh
- GetBlok Farms LLC, Wexford
- Little Free Pantry at House of Prayer Lutheran Church, Aliquippa
- Oasis Farm and Fishery, Pittsburgh
- Peace and Friendship Farm, Pittsburgh
- Providence Church Garden, McKees Rocks
- Rochester Area School District, Rochester
- Sharpsburg Market Garden, Sharpsburg
- Spring St. Garden, Aliquippa
- St. Vincent de Paul Monastery Community Gardens, Hollidaysburg
- St. Vincent de Paul Monastery Community Garden, Altoona
The awards, ranging from $300 to $1,000 each, will not only help fund materials such as tools, plants, and seeds, but also engage and educate community residents about gardening and healthy nutrition. The grants are funded, in part, from proceeds from the Sisters of St. Joseph annual farm-to-table fund-raising dinner called Faith. Field. Feast. which takes place each fall on their Motherhouse grounds in Baden.
On their 80-plus-acre grounds, the Sisters directly address food insecurity with two community gardens. From 2012 to 2022, the Sisters have donated 18,716 pounds of fresh produce to area food banks and soup kitchens. Chickens, part of the Motherhouse ecosystem since 2014, have also contributed 467 dozen eggs, a high-quality, affordable source of protein for neighbors in need. The Sisters also partner with several organizations in Beaver County and use their gardens and grounds to provide job training for at-risk teens and adults with barriers to employment.
About Sister St. Mark:
Sister St. Mark Lesko, who was born on July 1, 1894, entered the Sisters of St. Joseph from St. John Parish in Johnstown, PA. She worked most of her religious life in the laundry of St. Joseph Hospital on Pittsburgh’s Southside. When the doctors felt that Sister’s lungs were weakening from constant exposure to lint in the laundry, they advised her to change to an “open air” ministry. Sister St. Mark was then placed in charge of the farm at the Motherhouse in Baden at a time (circa 1946) when the Sisters depended on it for much of their own food. Sister St. Mark was a gentle, quiet woman who spent her life in humble, untiring service. She died in 1960, just nine days after her 66th birthday