‘We Feel Blessed’: Through 10 Years, Gospel Garden at St. Mark’s Emerges as Vehicle for Shared Abundance


Before the Rev. Peter Walsh could process parishioner Brian Hollstein’s pitch to build a garden behind St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, the crews were in the lot and the land was being cleared. It had been less than a day since Hollstein proposed his plan. Walsh liked the idea, so rather than think too much about the logistics, he surrendered and held on for the ride.

On a recent afternoon, a thoughtful Walsh observed that the garden “yields so much more than just vegetables.”

“The garden has been fruitful in terms of community by being a place where people who wanted to be part of a good thing could collaborate and execute on that desire,” he said.

As it marks its 10-year anniversary this year, the garden yields 2,000 pounds of produce for the New Canaan Food Pantry and Person-to-Person, and has emerged in many ways as a tangible reflection of the church and wider community.

The effort started with the materials, and through the years generous local businesses have contributed in various ways: Weed & Duryea has delivered lumber for the beds, Renaissance Partners sent carpenters to build them, Gannon Rustic Fences recently built a border, Summer Rain installed a sprinkler system, Copia Home and Garden has provided the plants and soil, Hutchinson Tree Care sent wood chips.

Then the gardeners came as the Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, STAR and several other local organizations sent crews. Kids were drawn to help out and an internship program developed: The garden is now staffed by a paid intern who oversees volunteers day-to-day.

“It’s a great community effort, there is a lot of sweat put into it by the community for the community. Naturally we wanted to be part of that,” said Mike Cunningham, manager of Weed & Duryea. “We are happy to help facilitate a garden that helps sustain people right in the neighborhood who really need the support. Providing supplies for growing food for the community is reflective of what we do as a business. It was a natural fit, and we are very proud to be part of it.”

The Gospel Garden, so named soon after tilling started, has expanded as demand has risen over the years. Its development has been supported by grants from organizations that include the New Canaan Community Foundation, the Rotary Club, St. Mark’s Outreach Commission and private family foundations.

With that growth has come a learning curve, according to those who know the garden best.

“Experimental crops do not really work,” said Margaret Roscoe, a New Canaanite and St. Mark’s parishioner who works with a team of three others including Hollstein in overseeing the garden operation today.

“We went through phases of trying exotic vegetables, but people like the straightforward, reliable produce,” she said. “They do not want to have to use Google to figure out what to do with the food they get. So we keep it basic, planting things like tomatoes, cucumbers, eggplant, lettuce, spinach, kale, things people know exactly what to do with.”

As the garden has expanded, community members reliant on the Food Pantry have weighed in.

“People started putting in orders,” Walsh said. “My favorite request was for bananas, which was a bit too big of a challenge. But we took the ideas, and began growing things that they wanted, within reason. That is how we expanded and began an orchard, with apples, pears and a couple of plum trees.”

The success of the Gospel Garden has given rise to Gospel Garden Givers, an initiative spearheaded by Roscoe that looks to take advantage of the surplus people have in their home gardens.

“Once a week they can leave their extra harvest on their driveway, or we can come in and harvest it for them,” she said. “We take it to the Food Pantry. In time we hope to also offer harvesting to people so that while they are out of town, their gardens are harvested. This will keep their gardens healthy and prevent their losing their bounty which can be used by the pantry instead.”

When Walsh looks at the Gospel Garden today, he is still in awe of how Hollstein’s vision embodied the central theme in their shared faith.

“We have a great belief that the abundance we all have needs to be shared,” the pastor said. “With Brian’s lead we have become a mechanism for sharing abundance. We feel blessed that we share space with the New Canaan Food Pantry, which is an independent entity. The garden builds on that shared space. We love to embrace that in every way we can. It is the embrace not just of the congregation, but of the entire community. And that really is special.”

To join the Gospel Garden team or to become a Gospel Garden Giver, contact Margaret Roscoe at (917) 455-7949.

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