This story originally appeared in the June 13, 2009, issue of Arkansas Catholic, the weekly newspaper for the Diocese of Little Rock, P.O. Box 7417, Little Rock, AR 72217, www.arkansascatholic.org. It is reprinted with permission.
BY MALEA HARGETT
Where weeds once covered the land, a bountiful garden at St. Joseph Home is now feeding neighbors and family members of Charlie Jackson.
Thanks to the Ladies of Charity of Arkansas, Jackson has been able to return to his love of gardening after moving to North Little Rock two years ago.
The Catholic lay women’s organization has been given permission to use two former garden plots at the diocese-owned building in North Little Rock. Jackson lives nearby at Christopher Homes, a diocesan housing unit for low-income elderly and disabled adults.
This spring St. Joseph Gardens opened with Jackson as its first client.
Kristy Eanes, Ladies of Charity president, said the “urban agriculture” or community garden project sprouted from an idea shared by Sister Mary Lou Stubbs, DC, director of Catholic Charities of Arkansas and sister moderator for the lay organization.
“I immediately latched on to that idea because it just seemed to make sense,” Eanes said.
The gardening idea fits with the organization’s goals.
“Our mission is to educate, empower and evangelize the poor and disadvantaged in Arkansas,” Eanes said. “Anyone who is marginalized or forgotten. That is who will be the clients at the gardens. … They will learn life lessons, the value of hard work, that you reap what you sow, quite literally, self-worth from knowing you accomplished a task. … We want to cultivate the crop but also the individual.”
The fate of St. Joseph Home, a former orphanage and day care that is currently used as a retreat center, is still being decided by Bishop Anthony B. Taylor, but he gave the go-ahead last year for Eanes and her members to garden there.
“It was a mess,” she said of the 10-foot-by-30-foot plot once used by nuns and a priest working at St. Joseph Orphanage.
Students from Niagara University in New York also worked for several days in March on the garden and repaired a shed to store a tiller and hand tools.
Residents of Christopher Homes were approached about their interest in taking over the space. Jackson was the only one to step forward.
“He is just amazing,” Eanes said. “He is our client, but he is more of a collaborator. He is helping us get it started. He is teaching me things about the garden. I am just grateful to him for his time and energy. I like to think, in a way, we rescued him from retirement.”
Jackson agreed that living a quiet life in his apartment was a drastic change from the active life he led in Southeast Arkansas. The 71-year-old retired 14 years ago after being disabled. When he moved to Christopher Homes to be closer to a daughter, he had to give up his garden, except for a few tomato plants he was able to plant behind his apartment.
“I was getting real restless over there,” he said. “I didn’t like just sitting there.”
In March the college students helped him plant radishes, onions and lettuce. In April he added two rows of tomato plants.
Sitting on a picnic table shaded by a tree, Jackson described his plans for the summer.
“I’m going to plant peppers and squash and I’ve got a row of cucumbers over there,” he said during an interview with Arkansas Catholic May 15. “I will probably plant some greens this fall. I might plant some radishes, onions and lettuce too.”
Jackson said having the garden for the past few months has improved his attitude.
“There is one word to describe it real good: therapy,” he said. “I didn’t think there were many people up here like Kristy. She is a special person. She is really trying to help people.”
Jackson signed a one-year memorandum of understanding with the Ladies of Charity. The organization agrees to give him access to the garden and water and even manure from the cows kept on the property, all for free, but Jackson must provide his own seeds and fertilizer.
If the project blossoms, Eanes said a Lady of Charity member will be assigned to each new gardener to provide assistance as needed.
“Each client will have a garden bud,” Eanes said with a laugh.
A 50-foot-by-150-foot plot by a grove of pecan trees is also available, but Eanes said the Ladies of Charity are waiting to develop it until a decision is made about the property.
Eanes’ dream is to divide the land into four gardens and reach out to Hispanic youth, the handicapped and the blind.
Once more financial and volunteer support are gathered, Eanes said she would love to see some of St. Joseph Home’s 63 acres transformed with a butterfly garden, raised vegetable or flower beds, fruit trees, bee hives, berry patches and a greenhouse.
“We would like to have our own agricultural school maybe for training to help individuals who are disadvantaged or those who need to find a job. There are lots of opportunities for farming in Arkansas. The sky’s the limit really or the acreage is the limit.”
Anyone interested in supporting St. Joseph Gardens can contact Eanes at firstname.lastname@example.org or (501) 664-0340.
SEE MORE PHOTOS related to this story at Arkansas Catholic’s MyNewsPhoto page, and order prints if you like. Click the “Big Blue Button” on our home page to see other photos taken by Arkansas Catholic photographers.