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The roots of community

When Fr. Peter Rood talks about the Holy Nativity community garden, you can tell that, no matter how much work he has on his plate, this is a project where he will drop everything to get it done.

"The conception of the community garden happened about a year and a half ago, when my leadership group and I were envisioning what the church should be doing," Fr. Peter says. "We've tried to be discerning in ways we can effectively engage and involve the wider community with concerns we all share — like environment and quality of life."

Since January 2007 Fr. Peter has been laying the foundation for a community garden on the site of Holy Nativity Parish's former lawn. Set in phases, the project began with setting up a flower garden on the property.

"For phase one we repurposed a bed full of junipers that we designated to grow the flowers we plan to use to decorate the church," he says. "I talk to the local wholesaler I buy roses from and they are flown in from Ecuador, and that's a lot of jet fuel. So in the spirit of concern for the environment, we're pushing community members to develop a local mindset, and buy products locally."

The flower garden will include oleanders, roses, asters, bearded irises, and varieties of lillies, he says. But besides the financial benefit of growing their own flowers, Fr. Peter stresses the importance of cultivating an independence from products that come from foreign nations.

"This project has become an opportunity for people to rethink and reskill themselves," he says. "People who have never thought of the environment are beginning to think in new ways. A generation or two ago, people knew how to grow food in their own homes. Today, though, TV dinners are the norm.

"Families can make this garden a family project, bring their children and claim a bed to grow their food and vegetables."

The front lawn of Holy Nativity has been torn out in order for phase two to begin. The groundbreaking for that phase will happen at 2 p.m. Sunday, June 8, where the beds that have been installed over the past few months will be dedicated.

"A big chunk of our property was devoted to watering a green patch that serves no other function than to look pretty and absorb water," Fr. Peter says. "So much water around here is such a valuable resource that, in the spirit of repurposing, we decided to make it a functional and an edible landscape."

Families with food insecurities can participate in the garden and adopt a bed, while the rest of the surplus will go toward the LAX Food Pantry.

"With this project, we succeed in doing something that benefits the environment, and address social concerns as well by having food go to the local food pantry," Fr. Peter says.

Urban Farming advised Fr. Peter as he initiated the second phase of the project. Program director Joyce Lipinski guided the community as they researched where to get compost and what kind of vegetables to plant. The focus, Fr. Peter says, is on the yield of the plant and those vegetables with longer shelf life. Beans, squash, chilies, beets, lettuces, chard, tomatoes, peppers and basil are among the initial crop planned.

Several community organizations have expressed interest in Holy Nativity's project, and various groups have pledged support for the garden.

"We are hoping to have community leaders at our kickoff this Sunday, and have enjoyed much sponsorship from the faith-based community as well," Fr. Peter says. "While we may be a religious congregation, we really wanted the emphasis of the garden to be an extension of our ministry and our understanding."

Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Center, St. Jerome Catholic Church, Islami City, and the Westchester Clergy Association have all donated flowers or offered to sponsor beds in the Holy Nativity Garden. Several Girl Scout troops have participated in the setup of the garden, and community members have all donated time and effort to see the project come to fruition.

Phase three will expand the garden to the rear of the church, where citrus beds can replace the groundcover and azaleas so differently abled folk can have access to gardening, Fr. Peter says.

"I have a vision of people from all walks of life and all kinds of abilities to enjoy gardening, and all for the benefit of people who can't afford to buy their produce or have food insecurities."

Holy Nativity is located at 6700 W. 83rd St., Westchester. The

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June 5, 2008