Garden at Our Lady of the Pines is a cornucopia of nutrition
by William J. Dagendesh
(Left to right) Deb Calhoun, Shari Underwood and Carla Dunford are pictured in the vegetable garden located on the rectory grounds of Our Lady of the Pines Parish in the Black Forest section of Colorado Springs. Produce from the garden is delivered to Catholic Charities of Central Colorado’s Marian House Kitchen. (Right) Pictured is a plaque honoring farmer and gardener Fred Pence, in whose memory the garden was created. (Photos by Father Brad Noonan)
COLORADO SPRINGS. Three Our Lady of the Pines parishioners have been tending a vegetable garden that provides fresh produce for the city’s needy population.
Shari Underwood, Deb Calhoun and Carla Dunford tend a garden located on the rectory grounds at Our Lady of the Pines Parish in the Black Forest section of Colorado Springs. The garden provides nutritionally-rich produce grown to support the needs of poor, urban neighborhoods and rural, secluded areas. This includes struggling families, seniors living on a fixed income, the working poor, military veterans, the disabled, unsupported teens and the city’s homeless population.
From this garden, the women grow a variety of mouthwatering veggies for Catholic Charities of Central Colorado’s Marian House Kitchen, located at 14 W. Bijou St. Each day, Marian House offers hot, nutritious meals consisting of soup on most days, dessert, coffee, milk, side dishes and fruit and green salads comprised chiefly of locally-grown garden produce.
Tim Underwood, facilities and information technology director at Our Lady of the Pines, said he and his mom, Shari, built the garden in memory of his grandfather, Fred Pence, a Kansas farmer and gardener.
“Fred was my mom’s dad, my grandfather I never met . . . We started the garden in memory of him,” Tim Underwood said.
According to Shari Underwood, it was Father Brad Noonan, pastor of Our Lady of the Pines, who suggested building a garden to feed the needy.
“Father Brad and Tim created and built it in spring 2022. They planted the original vegetables, grapes and fruit trees,” she said.
“They dedicated the garden and placed a stone marker to Fred Pence — my dad, Tim’s grandfather, whom he never got to meet. Fred owned a garden center, greenhouse and landscape business in Kansas, which I grew up in,” said Shari Underwood. “He also farmed, raising cows and chickens and growing corn. We always had a huge garden at the farm and he grew sod for the business.”
After the garden was built, Father Noonan and Tim asked Shari if she would take care of the garden. Calhoun and Dunford volunteered to assist her, and together the women dug in to garden-tending chores.
“I put out the word asking if anyone else wanted to help. Deb volunteered, and as a team we got it going and improved this past spring. Carla then volunteered and helped us through the season,” Shari said.
Calhoun suggested calling the garden “The Mary Garden,” a small sacred garden enclosing a statue or shrine of the Virgin Mary. The women later agreed on “Mary’s Giving Garden” as the official name.
“We also have a greenhouse/shed building we call ‘The Mary Shed.’ The walking areas have paver stones and mulch,” Shari said. “Father Brad acquired the greenhouse/shed for us and Tim’s crew fixed and painted it.”
Raised beds built from wooden timbers, metal, and heavy plastic comprise the 30-foot by 70-foot garden located across the road from the church, next to the rectory, behind the maintenance garage. The women plant and water the seeds, cultivate the soil and tend the garden several times weekly.
This past summer the women grew a variety of produce ranging from beans, cabbage, carrots, cucumbers and peapods to peppers, radishes, summer squash, tomatoes and zucchini.
“We also grew herbs in pots in the greenhouse/shed. The garden also has grapes, peach trees and apple trees that have not yet produced fruit,” Shari said.
Weather plays a major role in tending the garden because more preparation and planting is involved during the summer months, Shari said. After planting, time spent tending the garden consists chiefly of weeding and watering which also varies with how much rain falls, or if it is hot and dry. “More time is spent later when harvesting,” Shari said.
Also, the women enhanced the garden’s aesthetics by adding stones and mulch to the walking areas.
“We added more grapes and fruit trees and just planted more in the garden then it had the previous year. We have another small greenhouse that was donated which still needs to be set up. Tim also put in rain barrels for us.”
“It’s a lot of work for three women, but they’re making it happen,” Tim said.
Rochelle Schlortt, Chief Communications Officer for Catholic Charities of Central Colorado, said that “receiving fresh produce to use in our daily meal is a gift. So many of the people we serve rely on the Marian House for a nutritionally balanced meal because, for many, this is their only meal for the day. Receiving fresh produce allows us to offer green salads and fresh fruit options that would not be available without that donation. Nutritionally speaking, canned, frozen, and fresh is about the same, but you cannot beat the taste of a fresh vegetable or fruit salad. We are so grateful to these ladies, the parish, and to Father Brad for thinking of us for this donation!”
Father Noonan said the parish is blessed to have a garden for the poor on the rectory grounds.
“It’s a great use of rectory property as it is located where it can be expanded. It’s pretty substantial because all the produce is picked by the ladies, then delivered to the Marian House for their use. It’s a phenomenal gift and I love it,” he said.
Shari believes the community overall benefits from this garden because it feeds many people with many disadvantages. “We hope that those in need that visit the Marian House have enjoyed our fresh home-grown produce in addition to the great meals that they receive there,” Shari said.
The Marian House Kitchen offers meals from 10:30 a.m.-1 p.m. Monday-Sunday. To learn more visit www.ccharitiescc.org.