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Community Garden Series #1: Service & Justice at the Catholic Worker Garden

UGROW, or Urban Gardens of Worcester, is one of the core food justice programs of REC. Throughout the city there are over 60 gardens, 20 of which are located at schools. Anyone who has gardened at home knows of the magic that happens throughout the season- we wanted to capture a bit of this beauty by featuring some of the garden heroes in our community.

We’ll begin at the Catholic Worker house garden, located on Mason St. Claire Schaeffer-Duffy, co-founder of the SS Francis & Therese Catholic Worker House, and Joel Betts, Conservation Planner at Worcester County Conservation District, are the caretakers here.

While husking corn for dinner, Claire explained that there are around 250 Catholic Worker communities globally. Each community is motivated by their faith to bring about social justice to their local region. Most Catholic Workers, including the Schaeffer-Duffys, provide hospitality to those experiencing homelessness. The SS Francis & Thérèse Catholic Worker Community was founded in 1986, the house on Mason St was bought in 1987, and the backyard garden was built in 1994.

“Behind this house is a squatters lot, it used to be a shell of a burned building until the city tore it down and made it an open lot. The children used to play there and would often fight, just about children’s stuff, so we decided to make a garden out of it. We called it No Fighting Park.” Claire recollected that from very early on the REC supported the urban garden- providing seedlings and compost.

On the day of this interview, Claire was hosting two people. They usually average 5 guests at time, totaling around 50 guests a year. The community garden colors the experiences of the many people who have sat around Claire’s table.

She laughed as she said “one of our guests, Rau, he really loves the chili peppers.” Enjoying this local produce is not a rarity among guests. “They’ll come years later and they’ll say “oh yes- the meals!” It's very unusual for them to sit down and share a meal, and yet very familiar cause all of us have had a common meal with somebody. They really remember that, it’s interesting. It seems like such a basic thing, but it's a vital part of being alive, at the body and soul level.”

Noting inspiration caught during time spent in India, Claire also spoke of eating food one grows themselves as a radical act of justice. “Consumption is at the root of exploitation. You have to look at what you are consuming because it can be a source of harm to other people,” she said, “If you grow your own food you are not exploiting migrant workers, not usually using pesticides that will harm people.”

Maintaining such a vibrant garden takes time and effort, and Claire expressed gratitude towards having new hands to help. Joel lives just a few blocks away and recently started tending to the garden. The flourishing produce included tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, broccoli, chard, and basil. Andrew, a local community member pictured below, said “I've been watching this garden grow since July, what they're doing here is good for Mother Nature.”

Check back next week to learn about the food and friendships being cultivated at the Elm Street garden!

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