Janna Reynolds, The Catholic Virginian

Richmond’s Sacred Heart Center, a nonprofit whose mission is to provide education and support for area Latino families, has been awarded a $1,000 grant for its community garden. 

The “30 in 30 Green Grant” program, an annual initiative of Keep Virginia Beautiful, awards funds daily during June to projects aimed at improving the natural and scenic environment.

Sacred Heart Center learned of the grant though ConnectVA, part of the Richmond Community Foundation which promotes news, credible funding opportunities and announcements for nonprofit organizations.

Jesuit Father Jack Podsiadlo, who recently retired as director of the Latino Leadership Institute at Sacred Heart Center, had been in charge of the garden since 2013. Board member Jay Brown started the garden prior to the priest’s involvement.

According to Tanya Gonzalez, executive director of the Sacred Heart Center, bilingual signage for the garden is in the works to support for the center’s “strategy of creating a welcoming and supportive environment.”

Now maintained by the volunteer garden coordinator, the garden provides opportunities for adults and children involved with the Sacred Heart Center to share ideas about gardening and learn about gardening practices and food production.

Eight volunteers – five regulars and three who attend periodic garden work days – assist the garden coordinator with upkeep and help maintain the crops, which include pumpkins, lettuce, tomatoes, eggplant, potatoes, squash and several types of chilies. The Sacred Heart Center plans to add fruit trees, berry bushes and herbs.

Harvested food is offered at no cost to the people who attend programs at Sacred Heart Center and to the on-site food bank. Program participants also have the option of picking their food directly from the garden. 

Gonzalez said that the annual maintenance costs to purchase seeds and materials for raised beds and to maintain the greenhouse have been low; small amounts of money for these purposes have come from the Latino Leadership Institute selling snacks and drinks to Sacred Heart Center program participants and small gift card donations from Lowe’s.

Funds from the green grant will be used to purchase garden tools, build a composting system and repair the greenhouse and one of the 14 planting boxes on site. Paths between garden plots will also be cleared to ensure safety.