After a long winter, gardeners came out of hibernation and returned to the serenity of working the land, the Viatorian Community Giving Garden, that is, located on the grounds of the Viatorian Province Center in Arlington Heights.

What started out as a small herb garden in 2010, on the grounds of the Province Center, has grown into a thriving community garden, with multiple families, organizations, teams and other faith communities participating.

Associate John Dussman plants flowers to draw pollinators.

It was Fr. Daniel Hall, CSV, and Br. Michael Gosch, CSV, who planted the seed for the garden, back in 2012. Right from the outset, they described it as a ministry, with its mission to feed the hungry by raising fresh produce for local food pantries.

“We, as a community, have been very blessed,” Fr. Hall said. “This is something we can do to help those around us. We see it as our responsibility and our mission.”

Each year, participation has grown, especially during and after the pandemic, when interest in outdoor gardening flourished.

Now in its 12th year. the garden has averaged nearly 1,000 pounds of vegetables for area food pantries. However in recent years, after doubling the number of beds — and drawing many more gardening partners — Viatorians produced more than 2,000 pounds of nutritious produce for hungry families. Its record amount was 2,580, a number Associate John Dussman hopes to beat this year.

Associate Jason Kuffel and his mom, Cindy, prepared their plot for seeding.

“Let’s make this the best year ever,” he wrote to his committed gardeners.

Dussman has coordinated the garden for many summers and increasingly he has drawn members of the Arlington Heights community to join in the mission, including the Arlington Heights Garden Club, the Arlington Heights Memorial Library, the First United Methodist Church of Arlington Heights, members of the Children of Abraham Coalition, as well as Saint Viator High School student athletes, and even its head football coach, Dave Archibald and his family.

In all, there are 25 plots in the enclosed garden. Volunteers raise a wide variety of vegetables, including: zucchini, peppers, dill, lettuce, kale, basil, chives, cilantro, cucumbers, tomatoes, banana peppers and squash.

The garden averages more than 1,000 pounds of vegetables each summer.

With the help of Master Gardener Wayne Anderson, gardeners learned last year about the importance of pollinators — from a pair of plots filled with flowers to draw pollinators — and the value of adding rich compost to the soil, last fall when they winterized their plots and now as they prepare to plant their crops.

“It’s really rare to have this large of a garden getting so much direct sun,” says Anderson, a master gardener with the University of Illinois Extension Program and member of the First United Methodist Church. “I really like the mission of the garden, of giving away so many vegetables to the food pantry.”