Church garden harvests help for those in need

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Harvest Now founder Brooks Sumberg, left, recognized Beacon Falls residents Ann and Fred Hopkins last Friday in front of St. Michael’s Church in Beacon Falls. Harvest Now is a nonprofit organization that works to alleviate hunger by encouraging organizations to grow fresh food for those in need. Ann Hopkins has led the church’s Harvest Now garden for the past two years. –ELIO GUGLIOTTI
Harvest Now founder Brooks Sumberg, left, recognized Beacon Falls residents Ann and Fred Hopkins last Friday in front of St. Michael’s Church in Beacon Falls. Harvest Now is a nonprofit organization that works to alleviate hunger by encouraging organizations to grow fresh food for those in need. Ann Hopkins has led the church’s Harvest Now garden for the past two years. –ELIO GUGLIOTTI

BEACON FALLS — Ann Hopkins is a self proclaimed advocate for vegetables.

“I’m a spokesman for vegetables shall we say,” said the Beacon Falls resident and parishioner of St. Michael’s Church.

So, when the church decided two years ago to partner with Harvest Now, a nonprofit organization that works to alleviate hunger by encouraging organizations to grow fresh food for those in need, Hopkins stepped forward to lead the initiative.

“Ann was very, very enthusiastic about it,” Rev. Leonard Kvedas said. “She’s fantastic.”

For the past two years, Hopkins has been tending to a garden on the church’s property along Wolfe Avenue. A core group of gardeners — Kimberly Pyka, Rob Amaro, Hannah Battaglino, Arnold Perez and Hopkins’ husband Fred — have pitched in to help Hopkins.

The first year the garden produced 853 pounds of food, Hopkins said. The group nearly doubled the size of the garden to roughly 20 feet by 40 feet in the second year and grew about 1,500 pounds of food, she said.

Basil, radishes, tomatoes, lettuce, green beans, eggplants, peppers, cucumbers, summer squash and collard greens are just some of the vegetables grown in the garden. The vegetables are donated to the church’s food bank, the Salvation Army of Waterbury, St. Vincent DePaul Mission of Waterbury and The Greater Waterbury Interfaith Ministries.

St. Michael’s Church parishioner Kimberly Pyka stands in front of sunflowers grown in the church’s Harvest Now garden last year. A sunflower was entered in the Bethlehem Fair this past fall and won Best in Show.-CONTRIBUTED
St. Michael’s Church parishioner Kimberly Pyka stands in front of sunflowers grown in the church’s Harvest Now garden last year. A sunflower was entered in the Bethlehem Fair this past fall and won Best in Show.-CONTRIBUTED

Harvest Now was founded in 2008 by Westport resident Brooks Sumberg, a retired salesman and Peace Corps veteran. Sumberg reaches out to faith-based organizations in the hopes that they’ll start a garden then donate the food grown to those in need in their area. Recently, Sumberg partnered with the Department of Corrections and prisoners at Cybulski State Prison in Enfield have started their own garden.

According to the organization’s website, Harvest Now has grown over 42,000 pounds of food in the past four years. In the brief history of the organization, no church-based garden has produced more food than the one at St. Michael’s, according to Sumberg.

Last Friday morning, Sumberg made the trip through the snow to Beacon Falls from Westport to recognize Hopkins and her group of gardeners.

Sumberg said Hopkins is so dedicated and he wanted to recognize her and the group because they’ve given so much unselfishly of themselves.

“Since they made such an outstanding contribution, someone had to recognize them,” said Sumberg, who presented Ann and Fred Hopkins with citations in the church’s covered entryway as the snow fell.

Sumberg also brought citations for Pyka, Amaro, Battaglino and Perez, but they couldn’t make it to the church last Friday morning.

Sumberg isn’t the only one who has taken notice of the group’s efforts.

Kvedas said the church has received letters of thanks from the local food pantries that receive the food. Also, he said, the roughly two dozen families that participate in the church’s monthly food bank look forward to the fresh vegetables in the summertime.

“The people at the church are so proud of (the garden),” Kvedas said.

St. Michael’s Church parishioner Rob Amaro stands in front of tomatoes grown in the church’s Harvest Now garden last year. -CONTRIBUTED
St. Michael’s Church parishioner Rob Amaro stands in front of tomatoes grown in the church’s Harvest Now garden last year. -CONTRIBUTED

For Pyka watching the garden spring to life two years ago was enough to make her want to get involved.

“I watched the transformation of the garden and grounds of the church the year before and new I wanted to get involved. I love gardening and seeing the beautiful job Ann did, I knew I could get some great gardening tips while giving back to the community,” Pyka said. “I am looking forward to another successful season in 2013.”

Pyka credited the group’s success to Hopkins’ hard work, dedication and her great compost recipe.

Hopkins is no stranger to gardening. She grew up on a vegetable farm and continues to tend to her own garden at home. The sight of her planting flowers around the church and the gazebo on the property is a common one come spring.

So, Hopkins said, when she first heard about Harvest Now and the idea of starting a garden on the property, “it struck me.”

Hopkins said there are people that really need the help and the garden is something the church should be doing.

“There’s certainly a need and it’s been so greatly appreciated,” Hopkins said.