April 5, 2022
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 grants to 12 community gardens to help them reduce food insecurity and provide fresh produce to families in their neighborhoods.
Among the grant recipients are Providence Garden in McKees Rocks, which will improve water access to its organic garden that serves church and community members; Crop & Kettle in Ambridge, which will purchase tools and equipment to enhance its garden and greenhouse and create opportunities for workforce training; and Garfield Community Farm in Pittsburgh to create signage, an observation board, storage board and art at its site, which provides fresh produce and educational opportunities for neighbors and volunteers.
“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 29 grants totaling $18,800.
This year’s grant recipients are:
- Bible Center Church – the Oasis Project, Pittsburgh
- Crop & Kettle, Ambridge
- Fern Hollow Nature Center, Sewickley
- Garfield Community Farm, Pittsburgh
- Little Free Pantry at House of Prayer Lutheran Church, Aliquippa
- Mooncrest Neighborhood Programs, Moon
- North Hills Community Outreach, northern Allegheny County
- Operation Better Block, Inc., Pittsburgh
- Providence Church Garden, McKees Rocks
- Rochester Area School District, Rochester
- Sharpsburg Market Garden, Sharpsburg
- SVDP Monastery Community Garden, Hollidaysburg
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 2021, the Sisters have donated 16,466 pounds of fresh produce to area food banks and soup kitchens. Chickens, part of the Motherhouse ecosystem since 2014, have also contributed 442 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.