St. Francis Garden: A Refuge Nourishing Body and Soul in Bellmore

St. Francis Garden

“This garden stands firm in its Episcopal heritage,” notes Rev. Christopher McNabb, the former Priest in Charge at St. Francis Church in Bellmore. “It is – quite literally – rooted firmly in a Gospel that does not exclude, but invites all people to a sacred space that will nourish them in both body and soul.”

After a devastating pandemic year where most of Long Island needed to live in silos, Kristin Talbot, the Garden Manager at St. Francis, was deeply moved when she stepped into the role this past June and saw how the garden became a place of refuge and connection in the community. “Many people told me that they found St. Francis because their own house of worship closed during the pandemic. We were the only place where people could safety socialize and connect once the world started to open a little more,” she reflects.  

Kristin grew up in Wantagh just around the block from the garden and is a preschool teacher for students with varying levels of ability when she’s not working in the garden. It is an essential part of the garden’s mission to ensure that the garden is a place where differently abled people can meaningfully contribute. They partnered with Helen Keller Services for the Blind this past summer for regular Volunteer Days. “Every single squash was planted by the visually impaired this year. I tell this to the folks who come to our weekly farm stand – that this simple squash is so much more than produce. It’s a symbol of what we can do together to make all members of our community feel welcome and safe.”  

Nick McKinney, a volunteer at the garden who supported St. Francis in applying for a Parish Mission Grant with Episcopal Ministries of Long Island, noted that Episcopal Ministries stepped in to keep the garden going during one of the most difficult years in the garden’s 10-year history.  

One of the biggest hurdles in making the garden self-sustaining was preventing rabbits from eating a huge amount of the produce. Episcopal Ministries was able to fund the supplies for a fence to secure the garden allocated to growing produce for the weekly farm stand and local food banks. The fence has allowed the garden to increase profit from the farm stand and donate additional produce to local food banks, which have seen a large increase in need since the start of the pandemic.  

Every Saturday is Volunteer Day at the garden and people from the community and local organizations gather to do regular maintenance work. These responsibilities are routine, but Kristin notes that volunteers have expressed how the tasks allow them to enter an almost meditative state where conversations are meaningful, and people feel deeply connected to their spiritualities. “We’re only pruning squash, trellising tomatoes, or washing eggs, but it’s almost as if you can see the stress and tension built up over the past year evaporate out of the volunteers. People sometimes have no expectation to find grounding or community in the garden, but they leave feeling more connected and tapped into their spirituality,” says Kristin.  

The garden hosts a farm stand every weekend and produce pickups will continue through October - every Sunday from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Volunteer opportunities are plentiful at the garden. All those interested should email or call (516) 679-1184. You can also follow the garden on Instagram and Facebook.

This initiative was funded by Episcopal Ministries of Long Island’s Parish Mission Grants. Episcopal Ministries is deeply grateful to Nick McKinney, Kristen Talbot, and Rev. Christopher McNabb for their work and for this interview. You can learn more about how Episcopal Ministries is resourcing and amplifying ministries across Long Island on our website and make a gift to support this work.