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New Saint Francis Garden at Saint Dominic Academy in Auburn Growing Fresh Produce and Community

AUBURN---The hard work began in early May with socially distanced fence post hole digging, and this week, the planting at Saint Francis Garden at Saint Dominic Academy in Auburn was finally completed (additional pictures of the current garden and construction process below).

“The first tomato of the season has been spotted, and the potatoes and plants are beginning to bud!” said Fr. Seamus Griesbach, chaplain at the academy.

The garden represents a working, growing, and succeeding environment, an extension of the values the academy teaches. The project has been a service and learning initiative carried out by students, staff, parents, alumni, and others connected to St. Dom’s in order to share the joy and produce of vegetable gardening with the school family and the larger community.

“So many people donated seeds, plants, materials and the free time to this project,” said Fr. Griesbach. “It is greatly appreciated.”

On Wednesday afternoon, the “farmers” were busy in the garden weeding, thinning, and pruning. Quite a sight when you consider an untended dirt patch stood in the same place just a couple months ago. The idea of teaching the students the beauty of planting and gardening sprung from the distance learning that began in early March as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Though the process of virtual learning was wonderfully successful at the academy and Maine Catholic schools, there was something missing.

“Some days we struggled to find ways to connect with students and teachers,” said Fr. Griesbach. “Working on the garden seemed like a safe way to do that.”

By late May, the work had begun in earnest. Four raised beds were constructed and filled, and planting began. Seeds, seedlings, and perennial plants were assembled by volunteers and, fortunately, a large crowd gathered on May 28 for the first day of planting after Fr. Griesbach put out an open invitation to help out.

“In early June, we worked in the mornings to finish up the fencing and planting,” he said.

Over the last couple weeks, things began to pop up, including heirloom tomatoes and the corn rows.

When you see how far the garden, and its caretakers, have come, it’s no surprise that a new crop of ideas is already starting to grow.

“Next up, we’d like to establish a consistent watering schedule with future projects already in mind to pave a patio and pathways and install a small shed,” said Fr. Griesbach. “It’s great to see everyone contribute to the effort!”

Fittingly, a St. Francis of Assisi quote is posted on the Facebook page for the garden: “Praised be You, my Lord, through our Sister, Mother Earth, who sustains and governs us, producing varied fruits with coloured flowers and herbs.”