Volunteers enjoy working in pantry gardens Print E-mail
Around the Diocese
Written by Dick Jones, For the Catholic Herald   
Thursday, Oct. 27, 2016 -- 12:00 AM
food garden uppena
Garden co-leaders Msgr. James Uppena, left, and Dick Reynolds show produce from the Emmett Schulte Garden on the Hershberger property in Middleton Township. They are among more than 700 volunteers who plant and harvest produce in seven gardens in the Madison area to help feed the hungry. (Photo by Dick Jones)

Second in a series on the Madison Area Food Pantry Gardens.

MADISON -- Scripture readings often come to mind for Msgr. James Uppena, a retired priest residing at Our Lady Queen of Peace Parish who serves as a co-leader with Dick Reynolds at the Schulte Garden on the Hershberger property.

It is part of the Madison Area Food Pantry Gardens, which include 17 different gardens.

Following the Scriptures

“Raising food for the hungry is one way to take seriously the words of Jesus in Matthew 25, and to respond to the invitation of Pope Francis during this Jubilee of Mercy,” said Monsignor Uppena.

“One of the Corporal Works of Mercy is to feed the hungry. Sunday Gospel readings during the summer often contain one of the agricultural-themed parables from Scripture -- like the parables of the sower and the seed, and the weeds and the wheat.”

Added Monsignor Uppena, “We remember how often Jesus fed the multitudes with the barley loaves, and how he made bread (ground from wheat) and wine (pressed from grapes) into his Body and Blood as food and drink for eternal life.

“Tending a garden puts one directly in touch with these most basic of human needs, food for physical life and food for eternal life.”

No experience needed

As a child, Monsignor Uppena worked the fields and garden on his family’s dairy farm, but it’s not necessary to have gardening experience to work as a volunteer.

Vicky Franchino had limited experience, but as garden founder Emmett Schulte recalled, she was one of the first and longest serving volunteers at the Lacy Garden in Fitchburg.

She would bring her three daughters, the youngest no more than four years of age. Her husband Dave would join them when possible.

“I’m not a big gardener,” she said. The appeal for her was an opportunity to contribute, work outside, with others, who welcomed children and let them help as much as well.

No specific time commitment was required. Even if one could work only an hour one day a week, garden leaders were grateful. Come when you can, leave when you want, they would say.

Appreciation for farmers

For Franchino, there was also a sense of obligation, and appreciation for farmers and others who work the fields as a way of life.

“Was it Marian Edelman who said service is the rent you pay for living on this earth? You have the ability to help other people, and that it’s not a gift, it’s kind of a responsibility,” Franchino said.

“I feel like we all should do something. It’s not just like, ‘Oh, aren’t I a good person.’ If we are able to do something, we should.”

Much was learned working the gardens, if only briefly.

“I would talk about this with my kids, that if you never grow and harvest food, you don’t appreciate how hard it is,” Franchino said.

“We have this largely unseen population in our country, providing our food to us with their hard work. . . . Food just doesn’t pop out of nowhere. Someone had to work really hard to get that food to your grocery store.”

Franchino’s daughters, Helena, Margaret, and Kathryn, are now in their 20s. Margaret directs the UW-Extension community garden program in Green Bay. While active at Queen of Peace as a Pastoral Council member, Franchino is no longer able to work in the garden as much as in the past.

Children enjoy garden work

But among the Lacy volunteers today is another young family, Ryan and Laura Zakrzewski. They got involved some years ago, while members of Queen of Peace. Now members of St. Christopher Parish in Verona, they remain volunteers for many of the reasons Franchino and others cited. In particular, they like having Tom Parslow as the Lacy Garden leader.

“Tom’s a good teacher,” Ryan Zakrzewski said.

“It seems like everybody here likes the kids,” Laura Zakrzewski said. “They’re never in the way here. Tom brought some kid-sized hoes for them. We brought our neighbors’ kids once, and they liked it. That made it more fun for all of them.”

At the start of a work session, Ryan Zakrzewski asked his children what they liked about working in the garden. “Picking tomatoes,” said Sam, who is six and the youngest. “I like the big planting machine,” said Rory, the oldest at 12.

“The old tobacco planter,” Ryan explained, “the machine they pull behind the tractor. It digs and waters at the same time.”

Then the work session began, and Parslow set the family to work.

“Onions, gang; time to pull onions,” Parslow said. “I really like working with the volunteers. I enjoy these kids who are coming out. The rewards are that and watching the garden grow.”

Sense of peace

For Laura Green, grants and volunteer coordinator at the Catholic Multicultural Center in Madison, the rewards of working in the Schulte Garden are similar. “Every time I go out there, I just feel peaceful,” she said.

In recruiting volunteers, she underscores the difference they can make.

“I always tell people, and this is true, if we didn’t have the garden, we really wouldn’t have much, if any, fresh produce in our food pantry. Everyone deserves access to fresh, healthy produce. So we are very thankful that we can provide that in our food pantry.”

Called last December by Pope Francis, the Jubilee of Mercy ends November 20, but the need to help feed the hungry continues.

For more information about volunteer opportunities, visit the food pantry gardens website at

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