Our Lady of La Salette Parish in Berkley lends 5,000 square feet of growing space to Jewish nonprofit, a win-win for community

BERKLEY — After a year in which people stayed apart, two Berkley communities are starting the new year growing together. 

Throughout the summer and autumn, Yad Ezra, a Jewish nonprofit that provides kosher food to Jewish families in need, partnered with neighboring Our Lady of La Salette Parish in Berkley to expand its food-growing operation with the Genesis Garden, a community growing space for crops to donate to people of all faiths. 

The partnership began after Yad Ezra, a 30-year-old food pantry located on 11 Mile, contacted Our Lady of La Salette about using 5,000 square feet of parish property to expand the Jewish nonprofit’s Giving Gardens program in conjunction with a garden the Catholic parish had already established. 

The resulting partnership took on the name Genesis Garden, an apt tribute to the biblical traditions of both the Catholic and Jewish faiths. 

“We knew the parish had the Everybody’s Garden before this, so we got in contact with the parish about forming a partnership,” Staphis Pauls, who supervises the Genesis Garden for Yad Ezra, told Detroit Catholic. “Once we knew (the parish’s garden) was no longer moving forward, we knew there was a space that obviously had the proper conditions for growing food. So it seemed like an easy transition.”

A volunteer stands beside the 5,000-square-foot Genesis Garden on the campus of Our Lady of La Salette Parish in Berkley. The garden grows crops to be distributed through the Giving Gardens program. 

Pauls worked with Peter Rodgers, music director at Our Lady of La Salette, who is also in charge of the parish grounds.

“I didn’t know a lot about Yad Erza from the beginning, but I have a sister who works for Henry Ford Hospital as a social worker, and she knew a lot of people who have been helped by them,” Rodgers said. “I asked if they only feed Jewish families, and she said they serve everyone who comes to their door. I thought this was a great opportunity. They are neighbors just down the street who are landlocked, looking for property to grow food.”

It wasn’t until June and July that planting began — a little late in the season — but the Genesis Garden contained cold weather crops that can flourish in Michigan’s colder months, such as cabbages, kale, radishes, beats, beans and herbs.

In addition to planting the crops and tending to them, Yad Erza installed a water gauge to measure how much of Our Lady of La Salette’s water it was using, reimbursing the parish for any expenses.

“Since the pandemic, we have been doing a delivery service to about 40 to 50 folks every day, trying to meeting the needs of the community in southeast Michigan,” Pauls said. “Adding the La Salette site has been a huge addition to our production and crop yields.”

Pauls said the Our Lady of La Salette expansion more than doubles Yad Ezra’s growing space, helping the nonprofit feed nearly 1,200 families per month. 

Staphis Pauls, Josh Gordon and intern Jules Cunnien stand in the Genesis Garden at Our Lady of La Salette Parish. With Giving Gardens’ expansion to the Our Lady of La Salette site, the organization can feed nearly 1,2000 families per month. 

“Last year, we grew a little over $5,000 worth of produce, and this year we are on track for $12,000, and a big part of that is in thanks to Our Lady of La Salette and the Genesis Garden.”

The Our Lady of La Salette community has been vocally supportive of the Genesis Garden, Rodgers said. While COVID-19 restrictions on social gatherings and mingling have put a damper on volunteers from the parish to work with Yad Erza on the garden, Peters said the parish plans to use Genesis Garden as part of its Sunday experience with families.

“We are hoping parishioners can get involved with the planting and harvesting, having family programs for religious education and make it part of a family-focused Sunday experience,” Rodgers said. 

In addition to growing food for donation, Yad Erza also educates people on the history of foods and crops grown by the Jewish people throughout the world in the Jewish diaspora. The conservation of the earth, along with helping one’s neighbors, are common tenets of Judaism and Christianity, Rodgers said.

“The Genesis Garden has been a very positive thing for our parish, something everyone is very excited about and thrilled to take part in,” Rodgers said. “People think it’s a very cool idea, especially having the interfaith connection where everyone is being served.”