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 have awarded grants to seven community gardens to help them reduce food insecurity and provide fresh produce to families in their neighborhoods.
Among the grant recipients are the Sharpsburg Market Garden, which will purchase mushroom manure to nurture bigger and better vegetables for the community, which has no grocery store; the Little Free Pantry at House of Prayer Lutheran Church in Aliquippa, which will buy a shed to store supplies and equipment that are critical to growing fresh produce for those in need; and the Black Urban Gardeners and Farmers of Pittsburgh Co-op, which will purchase seedlings to increase food security and improve healthy eating habits among African American women and children.
“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 a total of $9,700 in grants to 17 community gardens in Beaver, Allegheny and Butler counties.
The 2021 grant recipients are:
- Black Urban Gardeners and Farmers of Pittsburgh Co-op, Pittsburgh
- Fern Hollow Nature Center, Sewickley
- Little Free Pantry at House of Prayer Lutheran Church, Aliquippa
- Mooncrest Neighborhood Programs, Moon
- North Hills Community Outreach, northern Allegheny County
- Providence Church Garden, McKees Rocks
- Sharpsburg Market Garden, Sharpsburg
The awards, ranging from $300 to $500 each, will help fund materials such as tools, plants, and fencing, as well as improvements to structures, watering systems and accessibility. 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 2020, the Sisters have donated 14,319 pounds of fresh produce to area food banks and soup kitchens. Chickens, part of the Motherhouse ecosystem since 2014, have also contributed 320 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 Sr. 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 that her ministry be changed to one in the “open air.” 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.
The Sisters of St. Joseph are a religious Catholic community of women who commit themselves, their energies, and their resources to their mission of serving God and the ‘dear neighbor’ without distinction throughout Western Pennsylvania and beyond.