Spring is in the air in the Chicago area, and that means only one thing to a diverse group of nearly two dozen Viatorians, students, teachers and staff members: gardening.

Fr. Charles Bolser is the first to get his hands dirty.

With a little more than a week before Mother’s Day — recognized as the traditional date to start planting in the Midwest — these gardeners are taking stock of their respective plots and making plans to get started.

Fr. Dan Hall, CSV, conceived the idea of a garden, five years ago as an initiative to help provide nutritious vegetables to families in the Northwest suburbs, struggling to put food on the table.

“It’s all about feeding the hungry,” Fr. Hall said at the outset.

Right from the beginning, he drew support from a wide variety of gardeners, from the Viatorians themselves, to staff members, as well as alumni, students and their families at Saint Viator High School. The newest group to roll their sleeves up are the men living at the Viator House of Hospitality, who wanted to give back to the local community that has welcomed them while they await their asylum cases.

Since its inception, the Viatorian Giving Garden has produced more than two tons of fresh vegetables, including radishes, lettuce, beets, peppers, zuchinni, squash and eggplant, as well as corn, sweet potatoes, broccoli, green beans and herbs.

Associate Joan Sweeney also grows fresh flowers in one of the plots. Typically, she grows a mixture of zinnias, poppies and daisies as well as purple sage, which she cut and hand-tied into more than 180 fresh bouquets, whish were distributed to Meals on Wheels recipients.

More flower cuttings for bouquets

“I think of it as food for the soul,” Sweeney says.

From these first few seeds, the garden will start producing for the next six months and make nutritious fresh vegetables accessible to local families. After all, after five years, the food pantry is depending on it.