Episode 2: Finding St. Francis in Nature

//Episode 2: Finding St. Francis in Nature

Episode 2: Finding St. Francis in Nature


May 1, 2019
Duration: 00:33:53
Guests: Larry Dunham, OFM, Guardian & Commissary of the Franciscan Monastery of the Holy Land in America; Fr. Michael Cusato, OFM



Listen to “Finding St. Francis in Nature” on Spreaker.



Episode Description Chris chats with Lou Maroulis of the Franciscan Monastery Garden Guild and Amy Bachman of DC Central Kitchen about how the Monastery’s century-old gardens – and the volunteers who preserve and protect them –
help feed people in Washington, DC. Fr. Michael Cusato returns to the podcast to discuss St. Francis’ belief that
we are all stewards of God’s creation.

“What we do here at the Monastery….with the growing of food out in the fields, is kind of an exemplification of what Francis meant about tilling the soil and working the fields so that men and women who do not have adequate sustenance in life can eat from the produce of the fields.” -Fr. Michael Cusato


Christopher Dwyer [00:00:06] Hi and welcome back to another episode of following Frances. We’re here in Washington D.C. at the Franciscan Monastery of the Holy Land in America. I’m Christopher Dwyer and today we’ll be talking about our gardens and our greenhouse and the Garden Guild right here at the monastery. Also talking to some of the volunteers and how our gardens help to support the local organizations in Washington. Later in the show we’ll have a few words from Father Michael Casado about St. Francis. So, I’d certainly want to welcome a very important member of the monastery team here and that is Lou Maroulis, the CEO of the Franciscan Monastery Garden Guild. And Lou, could you give us a bit of a background in what you do here at the monastery in the Garden Guild?

Lou Maroulis [00:00:57] The Garden Guild was founded by the friars 20 years ago as an all volunteer organization to help with the grounds, to help maintain the grounds of the monastery and so, the monastery has asked the Garden Guild to be the stewards of the 103 year old Metropolitan Cast Iron Greenhouse that has been fully restored. The orchard, which contains over 70 fruit trees through a partnership with Casey Trees, the vegetable farm, which last year produced over 7,000 pounds of produce, and since 2014, we have harvested and donated over 14 and a half tons of vegetable produce to both civic and religious organizations in the metro D.C. area. for those who need food. We also have an apiary with over 20 beehives primarily with three different organizations the D.C. Beekeepers Alliance, the Bee CARE Institute and D.C’s Jennie Elementary School. In addition, we maintain the meadow – there’s about seven to eight acres of open meadow which we then mow and maintain throughout the season. In addition to that, the Garden Guild also provides garden tours through the summer season from April spring and summer season from April through the end of September. And that is every Saturday at 11:00 and 12:00 noon and the tours are free of charge.

Christopher Dwyer [00:02:53] That’s terrific Lou. Now in addition to all of your activities some of them lead to activities that people can engage with and I’m thinking of canning. You did tomato canning and you also do honey extraction, you also do the strawberry jam. Can you tell us a little about a little bit about those?

Lou Maroulis [00:03:12] Yes, it’s almost like we are bringing back a lot of things that other organizations like the 4-H group has done, in addition to the strawberry preserves, honey extraction, and tomato sauce canning, we are also actively involved with the county fairs. Last year, for example, we participated with the Howard County Fair in Maryland, the Montgomery County Fair also in Maryland, and the Maryland State Fair and we received 50 ribbons because of all of the between vegetable produce, strawberry preserves, honey, and tomato sauce canning. And last year, the Garden Guild was able to make over twelve and a half gallons of tomato sauce based on tomatoes that we grew from the farm that started it by seed in the greenhouse the previous March. So, this is a wonderful way of being able to capture the essence of and the goodness that comes directly from the garden. And all of those were donated to the monastery kitchen.

Christopher Dwyer [00:04:29] Lou, this is a huge operation and obviously it can’t be done just by you, you must have a team of folks that are doing this. Can you tell us a little bit about the volunteers that come to help you out and if somebody was interested in helping you, how could they do that?

Lou Maroulis [00:04:42] We have an amazing group of volunteers that come from all different backgrounds and they are all interested in giving back to the monastery as well as to the community at large. In order to join the Garden Guild, our information is on our website which is FMGG.org. There is a link for membership. In addition, all of the information is available if you write to GardenGuild@gmail.com.

Christopher Dwyer [00:05:24] Lou, this is such an important mission for the Franciscan fFriars. Obviously St. Francis had a great appreciation for nature and God’s creation. How does the Garden Guild actually tie in and how is their mission tying in to what the mission of the Franciscan Friars are?

Lou Maroulis [00:05:45] The Garden Guild’s mission statement is very much tied in with the spirit of St. Francis, especially with the relationship that we have not only with the monastery but with the environment. Pope Francis’ encyclical from a couple of years ago, Laudato si, is an amazing document that we are able to do right here at the Franciscan Monastery because we tied together not only the purpose of and the charge that comes from that document, but also that we are able to utilize the monastery through utilization of the monasteries grounds and resources to be able to give back to society, which is the most important especially for those that are in need.

Christopher Dwyer [00:06:48] Lou, I really appreciate you coming by and enlightening me about all the work that you do here at the monastery and I’m sure our listeners are equally as pleased to hear about what you’re doing, so thank you for coming by, I appreciate it and maybe I’ll come out see you in the garden.

Lou Maroulis [00:07:03] Thank you.

Christopher Dwyer [00:07:04] Excellent. So we’re going to take a short break and after this break I will have a representative from D.C. Central Kitchen who works in collaboration with our Garden Guild to produce, produce for our folks in need in the D.C. area.

Christopher Dwyer [00:07:50] So it is my great pleasure to introduce now Amy Bachman. She’s with the D.C. Central Kitchen and Amy can you tell me a little bit about what you do it at D.C. Central Kitchen?

Amy Bachman [00:08:03] Yes absolutely. So I’m the director of procurement with D.C. Central Kitchen. We are a hunger nonprofit that’s been around for about 30 years and every day we are recovering food from all across the city to produce meals that go out into the community. While we’re doing that we also run a culinary job training program and that training program trains men and women who have previously experienced barriers to employment. And so we seek to train men and women and then additionally seek to hire as many people as we can from our graduating classes as part of our social enterprise work. So addition to meals that we do for shelters, we do additional meals for D.C. public school system, after school programs, as well as a program called Healthy Corners that seeks to address food deserts in the D.C. area by providing deliveries of fresh fruits and vegetables. So all in all we do about 10,000 meals a day across all of our different programs and in general, you know a big piece of what we’re trying to do was really trying to fight hunger differently to really try to break that cycle of poverty by our training program and giving people sort of the tools they need to be successful in their careers.

Christopher Dwyer [00:09:14] Excellent. And you say food recovery – is this from restaurants, is this from supermarkets?

Amy Bachman [00:09:17] Yes. So our food recovery work really spans a whole gamut of different types of food operations really anywhere you can imagine food waste would occur. We work directly with farms, so the Franciscan Monastery being one of them, but, we also work with more commercial scale farms larger operations. We work with a lot of wholesalers, so places that are you know really selling large volumes of food, we’ll recover from them – pallets of food at a time. We also work with some grocery stores, we work with farmers markets, larger food service operations like Audi Field or Nationals Park you know places that generate a lot of food that would have large amounts of waste or food that otherwise you know they would not be able to eat. You don’t have to call it waste extra food that you know doesn’t have a current use andd so we can then recover it before it becomes waste.

Christopher Dwyer [00:10:07] Excellent. That’s great. How would folks get in touch with you if they had a restaurant or supermarket or someone who wanted to donate?

Amy Bachman [00:10:14] Yeah, so if they go to our website, we have a page that says “donate food” and there’s actually a direct e-mail that goes to my team where we kind of ask some basic questions about what the food is and so it comes directly to us so then we can reach out to figure out is it a type of food that we can use or is it potentially something that might be better suited to one of our other great organizations in the city. I will say that prepared food is something that’s a little challenging for us to use since we are currently and we cook with the food that we receive when we try to make sure that the meals that we send out obviously have as much dignity and nutritious quality as possible, so for smaller prepared items we have another great organization that we partner with called Food Rescue U.S. that we’ll typically send those kind of requests to. But, it’s great for people to just to reach out and see. And then we can kind of play that that matchmaker and make sure that there is a good home for that food to go to.

Christopher Dwyer [00:11:02] Excellent. So they can contact you right through the website?

Amy Bachman [00:11:07] Go right through the website.

Christopher Dwyer [00:11:07] Excellent. And I know you’ve been partnering with the monastery here since the summer of 2015.

Amy Bachman [00:11:15] Summer of 2015. Lou I believe reached out to us. Lou Maroulis who runs the farm and told us about you know this amazing beautiful garden that I you know, I’m from the area, have been living in D.C. for six years. Now I live in Virginia, but I never knew this existed. I mean never knew this amazing part of this city was even here.

Christopher Dwyer [00:11:33] We are a hidden gem, I have to tell you.

Amy Bachman [00:11:36] It really is, the first time I came I was totally blown away and all the volunteers that come out are always really blown away by the beauty of this place. So yeah we we were invited. You know we’ve been running our gleaning program since the early 2000s, where basically every Thursday during the summer months, June through October, we take volunteers to a farm within the D.C. area – Virginia Maryland area to harvest products they wouldn’t pick. But, the Franciscan Monastery is a little different since everything you grow is for donation. So it’s a kind of a different partnership, but really a really cool one because of the charitable aspect of your farm and that when we come everything that we pick and everything that’s grown is donated.

Christopher Dwyer [00:12:17] Excellent. And I think you mentioned that so far it’s been 5,000.

Amy Bachman [00:12:22] It’s been about 5,000 pounds of food since we started the partnership. So, a little over 1,000 pounds each summer in fall that we are that we’re coming here and we’re able to collect from you all to then put it directly into the meals that we’re that we’re producing.

Christopher Dwyer [00:12:34] That’s amazing. That’s amazing. And I know with when Lou meets with us today, he’s telling us that they’re producing about six to eight thousand pounds of food every year, so there’s a number of organizations.

Amy Bachman [00:12:46] They have a few other groups that come out and glean besides us, you know we sort of, we kind of space out this farm amongst the other farms that we work with throughout the summer. But, I will say that this is pretty popular because it is in D.C. I mean some of our other farms are you know way out in Eastern Shore or down in Virginia. so it’s very nice to have this sort of local option that’s near a bus line for people who might not have transportation to be able to come and experience gleaning and experience that harvesting.

Christopher Dwyer [00:13:13] Now are the dates of gleaning put on your website.

Amy Bachman [00:13:17] Yeah, so we have a volunteer page on our website if you just go on our website go to volunteer that’s actually a full calendar that’s listed on all the dates are actually already out for the summer, so we don’t yet know when we’re going to come to the monastery, we don’t we don’t really have any of our farms set yet, we just sort of have the Thursdays reserved. But, you know as that as the trip people can basically sign up and as the trips get closer we can establish when we’re going to come out to visit with Lou and at this monastery. But, Lou is actually really great, he will actually will set up about dates well in advance, so probably in the next couple weeks we’ll be reaching out to him to pick dates for the summer, so that actually people would be able to know that this is going to be the monastery trip. If that was something they really wanted to participate in.

Christopher Dwyer [00:13:59] Yeah. And I know you probably need folks to help support your organization, so how can they do that in addition to what you’ve recommended with the website, with the food?

Amy Bachman [00:14:09] Yeah, so we have other volunteer opportunities besides gleaning. We have volunteer chefs at our two kitchens every day of the week, mornings, afternoons, and evenings. So, we always you know are happy to have volunteers come out and support us that way. Obviously we also are a nonprofit that receives donations, so if individuals ever want to come out and visit our space to learn more about what we do, to make donations to our program, to support all of the different programs that we’re working in the community, tat’s a wonderful way to help. One other kind of new exciting ways, we are actually opening up a front facing Cafe in Southeast D.C. at The Arc, which is like a nonprofit hub. A few other nonprofits are there and we’re going to have a culinary training space there that will have a front facing cafe so people can actually come support us in that way and look up D.C. Central Kitchen Cafe at The Arc and come and buy a sandwich or have some coffee with us to support the students in that program.

Christopher Dwyer [00:15:06] Wonderful. Now, we often get here the volunteers calling and saying I’d love to volunteer in the garden. Do I have to have experience, is something I need to know? And our answer to them is no. We welcome everybody to come and help us out. I’m assuming D.C. Central Kitchen’s the same.

Amy Bachman [00:15:20] Yeah, absolutely. I mean, especially with this farm that we go to, Lou is very great about you know really showing the volunteers what to do and how to pick properly and how to how to pick without damaging the plant and with the other farms that we go to you know we’ll either have the farmer with us the whole time or he’ll do a demo or he or she will do a demo at the beginning of the gleaning event to make sure that even if you’ve never set foot on the farm before you know they’ll teach you how to pick a peach the right way, they’ll teach you how to cut broccoli, and cut collards or corn or whatever it may be, and then you know usually myself or that person who’s running the program has done these trips many times so we can kind of get people those skills, but volunteering in our kitchens as well I mean we invite all people everyone 12 and older to come and volunteer with us, so we work with people to make sure that they can hold the knife the proper way and get some knife skills and cooking skills along with actually you know doing a lot of good.

Christopher Dwyer [00:16:09] So Amy, I know here at the monastery we obviously have to get our funds to keep the operation going, so I’m sure you’re doing the same thing. Do you have any upcoming fundraisers that the listeners should be aware of?

Amy Bachman [00:16:19] Yes. So, in November we have our biggest fundraiser of the year called Capital Food Fight. It’s at The Anthem, which is the new music venue down at The Wharf, and it’s basically a battle of four of the D.C.’s hottest chefs using secret ingredients and cooking on stage. Well there is about 50 to 75 of the hottest restaurants in D.C. offering samples and cocktails and it’s a great fun. I mean it’s one of the best foodie events in the city, so look up Capital Food Fight, it has its own website. Tickets you know will go on sale later this summer, but it’s an awesome time if you like food and obviously want to support the mission of the kitchen.

Christopher Dwyer [00:16:52] Well excellent. Thank you so much Amy for taking the time here. Amy Bachman is the Director of Procurement at D.C. Central Kitchen and has been generous with her time and coming by and talking about the central kitchen today. Thank you so much.

Amy Bachman [00:17:08] Thank you.

Christopher Dwyer [00:17:11] Coming up we’re going to be hearing from Father Michael Cusato and a few words about the St. Francis.

Christopher Dwyer [00:17:17] So thanks again to Amy Bachman from D.C. Kitchen. We’re very mindful here of the poor in D.C. and the friars have that as their primary mission. So, I’d like to welcome back Father Michael Cusato to talk a little bit about the friars and their work. Father, right here in D.C., the friars are operating a greenhouse to help feed the local community, not only the friars here at the monastery, but also some of the local religious. The bounty that comes from this greenhouse of nearly eight thousand pounds of food is also shared with D.C. Kitchen and many other nonprofits locally to help feed the poor. How does this relate to Francis’s understanding of nature and its interaction with even the poor?

Michael Cusato [00:19:06] In the early rule of the friars, in the chapter that talks about begging, the begging of the friars and the friars are to beg only when they’re not able to garner enough food and sustenance to support themselves in the community on a day by day basis. They were allowed to then go out to beg and Francis talks about going out to beg as going to the table of creation. In other words, all of creation is there for the sustenance of all human creatures. Every one of us. We, by virtue of our creation, have a right to be sustained by the creation that is around us and therefore the food that is grown in the earth is there for all human creatures, especially the poor who don’t have adequate supply. So, what we do here at the monastery with the Garden Guild and with the growing of food out in the fields here is kind of an exemplification of what Francis meant about tilling the soil and working the fields so that men and women who do not have adequate sustenance in life can eat from the produce of the fields and that the friars, by sponsoring this kind of work and this kind of productivity of the land, really makes available to people in the immediate area of vegetables. I don’t know if fruits are part of it, but certainly a lot of vegetables are grown here on our land here so that people have the ability to sustain themselves when they can’t provide enough for themselves by their own employment, which was very much a thing of the Middle Ages. People really didn’t have the adequate sustenance that they needed. And Francis really fostered that because the table of creation was there for all of us.

Christopher Dwyer [00:21:16] So Middle Ages continues today and Francis his work continues right here in Washington D.C.

Michael Cusato [00:21:21] We’d like to hope so.

Christopher Dwyer [00:21:23] Thank you.

Michael Cusato [00:21:23] You’re very welcome.

Christopher Dwyer [00:21:28] Well that’s all we have for today’s episode of Following Frances. Thanks for listening and thank you to Father Michael, Lou, and Amy for joining me today. Please make sure to subscribe to our podcasts so you’ll never miss an episode of Following Frances. Plus, join us on our website. Mike Francis can not work as well as the Monitor his Facebook Twitter and Instagram accounts to stay up to date with all of our happenings here in D.C. and also on the Holy Land. So until next time I wish you the Franciscan blessing of peace and.


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2019-08-29T07:59:33-04:00April 25th, 2019|Categories: Following Francis Podcast|Comments Off on Episode 2: Finding St. Francis in Nature