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The Gooden School
Reproduced with permission from Episcopal News Service. Copyright (c) 2010 Episcopal Life Online.

How does our garden grow?
With a blessing from the presiding bishop Episcopal school spreads hope through community service project
 

By Pat McCaughan, May 05, 2010
 
Each weekday 10-year-old Elena Forbath eagerly looks up to Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori — or at least an image of her — while checking the organic garden at the Gooden School in Sierra Madre, California, in the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles.
 
"I like to see what's growing big. The squash and tomatoes and Swiss chard are growing like crazy. We already pulled the beets," said Elena during a May 4 telephone interview.
 
The organic garden project, dubbed the Garden of Hope, afforded Elena and other fifth graders at the K-8 Episcopal-affiliated school lessons in science and the environment, community service and the Millennium Development Goals, and a little bit about the Episcopal Church thrown in for good measure.
 
That's because the presiding bishop gave them permission to use her image for the garden scarecrow.
 
"I know she's the head bishop of the Episcopal Church. She's the head bishop over all the other bishops," Elena said. "It's really nice to see her every day."
 
Marianne Ryan, the assistant head of school, said the idea for the garden grew out of her doctoral thesis project at the Virginia Theological Seminary in Alexandria, Virginia.
 
"Last summer when I was imagining this project, I thought of Katharine Jefferts Schori," she said during a May 4 telephone interview. "I admire her and thought, being a biologist, she's interested in the environment.
 
"So we had the fifth graders research her on the Internet. They were excited to learn about her. They thought it was wonderful she was a pilot," Ryan recalled.
 
"Each student wrote a letter and told her a little bit about themselves and our project and wondered if we could use her likeness as the scarecrow. We sent her pictures of the project. She wrote back a very lovely letter and agreed to be our scarecrow," Ryan said.
 
"She looks very real," added Ryan.
 
She said that assembling the scarecrow became a community effort. A local artist, Steve O'Loughlin, created the presiding bishop's face while others pitched in to build a stand, sew the vestments, and even replicate a crozier and mitre.
 
Bishop J. Jon Bruno of Los Angeles was on hand April 29 to officially bless the garden, with a few sprigs of parsley (from the garden) and holy water. "It worked very well, we were able to get the holy water all the way to the garden," said Ryan.
 
"The Presiding Bishop had told us her favorite color was blue, so we made her vestments blue, the ribbons around the garden were blue and every 5th grader took part in cutting the ribbon," Ryan recalled.
 
The presiding bishop good-naturedly agreed to the project, saying in a statement, "I am delighted that Gooden School is encouraging their students to learn more about our interconnectedness with all of God's creation!"
 
To that end, the garden is already whopping success, said Ted Forbath, Elena's father.
 
"The kids were so engaged in nurturing their part of the earth and they were so excited about watching the growing process," he said. "Each day when Elena is dropped off at school, she takes us to the garden to see the progress."
 
He added that the students "are very proud to be helping it to grow. For them, it wasn't about eating the produce, it was about the loving and nurturing and eventual sharing."
 
And they had an opportunity to do just that, when they loaded their first harvest -- Swiss chard, tomatoes and beets — into cars for a recent field trip to the Ecumenical Council of Pasadena Area Churches (ECPAC).
 
ECPAC offers a food pantry through its Friends in Deed program, said the Rev. Pat O'Reilly, director.
 
"We gave them a tour and explained to them how we distribute food, how much we get, why we need the food from the garden," O'Reilly, an Episcopal priest, said during a May 5 telephone interview from her Pasadena office. "We told them that people are just scraping by, that we're trying to prevent people from going hungry and that fresh fruits and vegetables are a treat for them."
 
O'Reilly said that the food pantry is feeding nearly twice the number of people it did two years ago. In 2008, the agency, a consortium of churches in the Pasadena area, fed 1,300 people a month. "Last month we fed 2,500," she said.
 
The economic slump has created a ripple effect: "We're finding that grocery stores are ordering less, so they have less surplus to donate," which has affected the agency's ability to serve those in need.
 
"They told us that because of the garden, people could have fresh vegetables and herbs," said Elena Forbath about her trip to ECPAC. "It's important for them to have healthy food instead of just canned goods. I just hope the garden gets bigger and bigger."
 
O'Reilly said there's an important lesson for adults, as well as children.
 
"We all focus on our own little communities most of the time. We think the whole world looks like our community. Often we don't know there are others who live very differently from us and don't have all their needs met.
 
She said the Gooden School's Garden of Hope is "a model for other schools, other programs and other individuals, to start gardens and to donate their produce. It's an opportunity to do what you love and to help someone else.
 
"It's important to open the eyes of children at that age because they are full of compassion. It's important to let them know they can make a difference in the daily life of others. That life is about giving and loving and serving and not just acquiring for yourself."
 
Borrowing the presiding bishop's image for the garden's scarecrow demonstrates the church's support, which is crucial, O'Reilly added.
 
"After all, this is about fulfilling one of the Millennium Development Goals, to eradicate poverty. It's important that the church backs us up and says we're behind you, that what we need to do as Christians is to love and serve in every way we can, to help each other through this difficult time. I think she's great."
 
For Elena Forbath, the presiding bishop is more than great. "She's really cool. She has squash and tomatoes and eggplants on her clothes and on her hat is a little jeweled cross.
 
"We put her up on a little hill so she can look down at all the plants and protect them and nurture them."
 
-- The Rev. Pat McCaughan is a national correspondent for the Episcopal News Service. She is based in Los Angeles. 
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