Tomatoes, Tomatoes Everywhere

Rebecca Doel Around the Province

CAMDEN, N.J. — St. Anthony of Padua Church was faced with a unique challenge this summer — what to do with a surplus of tomatoes from Br. Jerry’s Community Garden.

Named after the late Gerald Hudson, OFM, the parish’s community garden, featured recently on Fox Philly, offers fresh, natural produce from Camden, “often called a ‘food desert’ by the Camden Children’s Garden for the lack of grocery stores and sources of fresh food,” said Kristen Zielinski-Nalen, director of the parish’s Hispanic and Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation ministries.

“My lycopene levels are soaring,” she joked.

Not wanting the fresh produce to go to waste, parishioners were invited to take two one-pound bags of tomatoes — one for themselves and one for a homebound neighbor — after the Aug. 15 Masses. “The following week’s harvest was donated to a local soup kitchen,” said Zielinski-Nalen, who joined the staff earlier this summer.

The parish estimated that a one-day tomato harvest from only three family plots is worth more than $75, “money collectively saved by the community from their grocery bill,” she said.

“In addition, the garden offers naturally grown, local produce to boost healthier diets and offers a chance to connect with the earth for those who do not have a yard of their own in which to garden,” she added. “St. Francis would be proud.”

With tomato season winding down, Zielinski-Nalen said squash and pumpkins will be next. She said the garden relies on free plants from the Camden Children’s Garden, which typically has an abundance of tomato plants.

The parish, whose pastor is Jud Weiksnar, OFM, also recently began selling Fair Trade coffee after Masses. “The first shipment sold out!” Zielinski-Nalen said. “We hope that is a good sign of continued interest in supporting Fair Trade.”

The St. Anthony coffee sale supports farmers from countries represented by parishioners: Mexico, El Salvador and Nicaragua, among others.

The garden project, Jud said, is one of several that he has been wanting to accomplish for some time. “Kristen has done several things already that I have wanted to do for years and never have found the time to do including selling Fair Trade coffee after the Sunday Masses and accompanying our Hispanic young adult group.” 

The photo above shows a parishioner from St. Anthony of Padua with a bag of tomatoes from Br. Jerry’s Community Garden and Equal Exchange Fair Trade coffee

— Rebecca Doel is communications coordinator for Holy Name Province.

Editor’s note: Many photos of the ministries and events at the Camden church are posted on the parish’s Facebook page and on its website.