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Posted September 3, 2009

Tennessee parish farmers' market shares bounty, supports ministries

By Theresa Laurence
Catholic News Service

MURFREESBORO, Tenn. (CNS) -- St. Rose of Lima parishioner Larry Wise stood, sweat-soaked by the August sun, drawing in Massgoers like a midway barker, encouraging them to "get your fresh, homegrown vegetables right here."

Franciscan Father James Kallarackan, pastor, stood nearby handing out plastic shopping bags and trying to persuade his parishioners to take a chance with the fiery hot peppers he grew in his own garden.

People stopped and perused the offerings at the St. Rose farmers' market, scooping up handfuls of green beans, marveling at the squat purple and white eggplants, and carefully picking out the ripest red tomatoes.

Wise, a longtime gardener who raised six children on homegrown vegetables, started the farmers' market last year as a way to share the bounty of his and other parishioners' gardens, and to build community at the parish.

The thought was that, "if God's been that good to us, let's give something back," Wise explained.

Wise, a leader in the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults program at St. Rose, also thought the farmers' market would be a good way to get new Catholics involved with parish life, "beyond one time a week Catholics," he told the Tennessee Register, newspaper of the Nashville Diocese.

This year, Kurt Potter, who completed the RCIA last spring, is in charge of the market.

Potter, who also is a Knight of Columbus, said the Knights have "helped out a lot" with the market, which serves as a gathering point for all people of the parish. "A lot of good fellowship comes out of it," Wise said of the market.

Although he has only been a backyard gardener for two years, Potter was preparing to can some of his surplus produce and still had enough to donate to the market. An organic gardener who does composting, Potter said what he's doing is "straightforward, common-sense stuff."

The father of two St. Rose School students, Potter said his home garden is an important way to "teach kids what growing vegetables is all about and where food comes from." His children like to help pick tomatoes and especially enjoy "planting them and peeking in on them every day" early in the season to monitor their growth, Potter said.

The concept and logistics for the market are simple, and Wise says they could be replicated at other parishes.

Gardeners bring their produce to St. Rose each Sunday morning and volunteers arrange it on the tables outside the parish's fellowship room. Even if they don't have a vegetable garden, parishioners can donate baked goods or fresh flowers to the market. Parishioners take what they want and leave a donation of any amount in the jar.

The proceeds are donated to the parish to be used for a variety of ministries, including youth ministry, the Haiti Parish Twinning Program and others. Last year, in a four-week period, the market raised about $1,000 for the parish.

The spirit of the market is "if you have something, you contribute," said Father Kallaracken. "If you need it, take it."

Father Kallaracken, who comes from a farming family in Kerala, India, grows hot peppers, beans, squash, eggplant and melons in his St. Rose garden.

Dr. Bob Dray, one of the biggest contributors to the market, farms about one acre on his 50-acre lot. Besides St. Rose, Dray and his wife Debbie sometimes stop by construction sites and hand out fresh produce to the workers. "We give it away because we just enjoy growing it," he said.

Dray, St. Rose parish council chairman, said when he was growing up his family always had a garden, and he is happy to continue the tradition. He also is glad to see the St. Rose parishioners' bounty helping other causes.

"I think this parish has a lot of good community outreach," Dray said. "Father knows there are needs outside the church walls" and encourages this creative approach to social justice action.