DescriptionI began volunteering with the Franciscan Monastery Garden Guild after reading an article about it by the Washington Post’s gardening columnist. The guild was formed in 1998, originally to help maintain the formal front gardens of the Franciscan Monastery of the Holy Land in the Brookland neighborhood of Washington, D.C. In 2014, the guild’s primary focus became growing produce for donation to area food pantries. Since then, it has raised more than 38 tons of fresh vegetables for distribution to those in need.
The guild’s volunteers start plants from seed in the monastery’s cast iron and glass greenhouse in 1915. They are transplanted to garden beds on the grounds behind the monastery in the spring. Volunteers tend to weeding and watering until the crops are ready to harvest, which can be a meditative experience in the peaceful oasis of an urban farm in the midst of a busy city.
Food insecurity increased exponentially during the pandemic. Even as the pandemic recedes, inflation and supply chain disruptions have continued to exacerbate the problem. The guild has increased the amount of land under cultivation from three quarters of an acre to over two acres to help fight hunger. It is also renovating the monastery greenhouse with a goal of returning it to year-round operation.
With the help of the nonprofit Casey Trees, the guild has restored the monastery orchard, dedicated volunteer has recreated the monastery herb garden. A pollinator meadow and pond help butterflies, native bees, and honeybees in about 20 hives cared for by the nonprofit DC Beekeepers.
Guild volunteers have resumed leading tours of the monastery’s front gardens, which are open to all and served as a place of respite for neighborhood families during the depths of the pandemic.
- Story Contributed by Peter Q.