New Canaan church serious about going green

Gospel Garden serves  local food pantry/Tracy Simmons - CreedibleNEW CANAAN – St. Mark’s Episcopal Church bleeds green.

The church has made recycling and fluorescent light bulbs the norm, and Rev. Peter Walsh says that’s just the beginning. Soon, he hopes the church’s entire 13-acre campus will be environmentally sound.

Stewardship is something the parish has always been passionate about. Several years ago St. Mark’s signed up with Reforest The Tropics to sponsor a forest in Costa Rica that would offset the church’s carbon emissions. So, when Walsh came to the church two years ago, he didn’t have to twist any arms to launch a hard-hitting green campaign.

“I have a great desire to make our planet green,” he said. “Nothing’s going to be left if we don’t start saving our planet.”

The church changed its bulbs and put out recycle bins, but Walsh said it wasn’t enough.

Recently St. Mark’s hired AKF Engineers, out of New York City, to conduct an in-depth audit to see how the church can become more environmentally responsible. The audit won’t be completed for several months, but St. Mark’s has plenty green initiatives to keep busy in the meantime.

Last year church members planted the Gospel Garden, which grows organic vegetables for the food bank housed on the church campus, 111 Oenoke Ridge in New Canaan. The food bank currently serves about 160 families – more than triple the number of people it served a year ago.

The 55×20-foot garden is maintained by volunteers and supplies the food bank with peas, beans, eggplant, potatoes and many other veggies.

“We’re doing a lot of little pieces, it’s a journey of 1,000 steps,” Walsh said, adding that taking care of the planet is a Christian value that’s often overlooked. “It’s a moral obligation to the community and to the future generations.”

Volunteer Brian Hollstein, a member of St. Mark’s, said the garden produced about 600 pounds of vegetables last year and is anticipating even more produce this year. It has 18 raised beds protected by an 8-foot tall fence.

Church volunteers aren’t the only ones maintaining Gospel Garden. Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts groups have tended to the garden, as well community organizations like SLOBs (Service League of Boys) and STAR, a home for mentally disabled adults. And at least one local nursery school has planted seeds in the garden as a hands-on way to teach students about gardening.

“It’s a nice mix of people,” he said. “We’re not solving the problems of hunger in the world, but it’s providing a resource that in the future we can use for inspiring other people. People can come work in garden, learn how to use garden and it’s already starting to bear fruit.”

He said two other area churches are starting their own gardens after witnessing the difference Gospel Garden is making.

Hollstein said volunteers have also planted pear trees, grapevines and blueberry and raspberry bushes, which will be ready for next year’s harvest.

For more information, visit St. Mark’s website here.

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