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Reverend combines love of faith with bountiful harvest

Date: 11/9/2010

Nov. 10, 2010

By Lori Szepelak


WESTFIELD -- Harvest time conjures up a multitude of images and among those are local gardeners who are picking the last fruits of their labors as time quickly races toward winter.

St. Mary's Church is blessed with an avid gardener, the Rev. Brian McGrath, who maintains a neat, compact garden adjacent to the rectory on Bartlett Street.

During a recent late afternoon interview with Reminder Publications, McGrath was juggling a variety of tasks but took time for a quick tour of the church garden, which includes several rows of wheat -- an addition to his crops this year.

"I've been scrambling to get the last of the veggies out of the garden before the first frost," said McGrath. "In this time of harvest it is good to think of what we are producing for God."

Throughout the year, the church garden proves fruitful for not only the rectory's needs but the church's food pantry as well. McGrath grows tomatoes, beans, Brussels sprouts, hot and bell peppers, cauliflower and leeks.

"One of the great things about being part of an active parish is that lots of people help with the garden," he said, adding, "from a friend who grows alpacas and helps me with manure, to wonderful ladies who help harvest the vegetables to distribute at daily Mass. There's even a section that Fr. Jim Longe has taken over to grow some of his favorite vegetables. It is great to have the help."

As much fun as it is to grow the bountiful harvest, McGrath relishes giving so much of it away.

"Whether it be a basket of veggies given away at daily Mass or a spaghetti sauce I've cooked over a couple of days, the garden allows me to give back way more than I put into it," he added.

In the spring, McGrath logs 15 to 20 hours a week preparing the soil, planting, and putting down weed block between the rows. As the year progresses, he has to find time each week to water and weed.

"As things ripen, there is more time to harvest," McGrath said, adding, "and soon I will have a big task ahead to put the garden to bed for the winter."

McGrath wanted to add to his garden this year and was intrigued about growing wheat.

"Wheat shows up in several passages from the Bible," he noted. "I have a friend from Kansas who showed me his family's fields of wheat. And, of course, I have used wheat to bake bread and to brew beer. So I was interested in seeing how it grows and whether it could be used in the bread and beer I make."

McGrath is proud of his three rows of wheat which are from several hundred individual plants. His hope is to make two batches of beer with the wheat.

"The first batch I am not expecting anything more than a learning experience," he said. "Hopefully by batch number two it will be drinkable."

McGrath expects to share his beer and bread with friends and family in the coming weeks.

As fall progresses and the frost nips at the grass, McGrath relishes the opportunity to share the last of his bounty with others.

"For sure there are many who get a sampling of vegetables over the year," he said. "But maybe the most benefit is the peace and sanity I get by tending the garden. Then I can bring that peace forward to everyone else."

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