Thanks for A Great Garden Season!

The Sister Carmen Community Center (SCCC) Garden contributes about 1,000 pounds of produce to our Food Bank each year, but it provides so much more to our community! Beyond nutritional sustenance, it offers beauty, serenity, and a sense of community and purpose, while also honoring our commitment to sustainability. The garden transforms all who enter it. Most days, you’ll find staff enjoying lunch under the pergola adjacent to the garden. Its flowers grace our desks and greet our guests in the lobby.

Our garden volunteers include families with toddler to teenage kids, retirees, corporate groups, schools and youth groups. They bond and build community as they work together to nurture and harvest nature’s bounty. Visitors always leave our little patch of earth with smiles on their faces. This is due in large part to our Garden Coordinator Robyn Rathweg, who has kept SCCC’s garden running smoothly for almost a decade. Robyn is always happy to share her vast gardening knowledge. She can often be heard welcoming young visitors with the phrase, “Who likes bugs?!” as she ushers them into the garden.

As summer winds down, we’re sharing a glimpse into our garden before another magical season comes to an end. We pause to reflect on the joy the garden has brought to so many this season, and we thank our volunteers and visitors for being a huge part of that joy.

On any given morning April through October, you’ll find volunteers in Sister Carmen’s Community Garden watering, pruning, harvesting, arranging flowers, and laughing. For some it’s a place to connect with the earth, for others it’s a place to connect with fellow gardeners or to learn from Robyn. For most—it’s a combination of factors that keeps them coming back week after week, season after season.

First, a little background on our garden and its caretaker: The garden was started in 2012 after Sister Carmen Community Center moved to our current location and had some land available for a garden plot. Robyn joined SCCC in 2014 and took over management of the garden.

Robyn Rathweg
SCCC Garden Coordinator

Robyn received her Colorado Master Gardener (CMG) certification through Boulder County’s Colorado State University Extension Office. The office’s website states that “Master Gardeners enhance Colorado communities through outreach, education and environmental stewardship.” Robyn does all of this and more for the Sister Carmen Community Center Garden.

Becoming a gardener was less of a decision and more of a state of being for Robyn. It was in her DNA. Her mother grew up on a farm in the Midwest, and she instilled a love of gardening in Robyn. “We always had a small garden when I was growing up in the suburbs of Ohio and Wisconsin.”

Gardening has continued to be a source of joy throughout Robyn’s life. “It’s my way of connecting with the natural world,” she says. “There are endless things to learn about nature, plants, animals, and fungus in a garden. It’s sometimes frustrating, but also endlessly interesting.”

“It’s important to connect with the natural world and be in the presence of living beings, especially things beyond our control,” she continues. “We prepare the soil, plant seeds, water, but Gaia (Greek goddess of Earth, mother of all life) does the rest. Gardening helps us understand our place in the world.”

Robyn enjoys working with experienced and beginning gardeners alike. She loves to consult with seasoned volunteers and introduce novices to the wonder of the garden. “I love working with kids—getting them to pay attention to what’s going on around them and become more connected to the world. It grounds them.”

And then there are our volunteers. “We really have an amazing group,” she says. “They are dedicated, knowledgeable, fun and kind.”

The feeling is mutual.

Katie, a new Colorado resident who left behind a large garden in Virginia, was suffering from “garden withdrawal.” Sister Carmen’s Community Center Garden was the perfect fix. She loves being outside, finds the garden very inspirational, loves that children often visit, and enjoys spending time with her new garden buddies. “I was blessed to have found it,” she shares. “Robyn is so welcoming.”

Another avid gardener, Cheryl, a third generation Boulder County resident, has volunteered in the garden for about a year. She loves working with Robyn in the garden as well. “She’s knowledgeable, kind, and easy to work with.”

Laurie, Caleb & Cassie

“Robyn teaches us so much,” Laurie agrees. She started volunteering with her two sons, Ethan and Caleb, about five years ago. Living in a townhome without a yard, Laurie was looking for an activity she could do outside with her boys. Sister Carmen’s garden fit the bill. Ethan built the compost bins years ago for his Eagle Scout project. Now he’s off at college and younger brother Caleb continues the family tradition with his mom and often brings his girlfriend, Cassie, along.

Another volunteer, Georgette, a 30-plus year Lafayette resident, is here every week working and playing in the garden. She’s been known to dare Caleb to eat another Japanese beetle—it happened once—telling how Robyn shared recipes using Japanese beetles with the garden crew. Georgette also brings her children and grandchildren to the garden when they visit from out of state.

Georgette and Family

More than anything, Robyn says she’s happy so many people have found sanctuary in the garden, and that SCCC staff members appreciate it so much. “I love their reactions when we bring flowers around the office,” she adds.

The process of closing the garden for the season is weather dependent, but usually begins in October. This year, Robyn is hoping to construct a “cold frame” or “hoop house” (modified greenhouse-type structure) out of PVC pipe and plastic sheeting to extend the gardening season. If you’d like to help with this project or the garden in general, contact Robyn. We’ll see you next Spring, if not sooner!

Fill Your Cup While Helping Others Fill Their Plates

By Kyle Staarmann, RN
Garden Volunteer

Sister Carmen Garden started in 2012 as a way to support the food bank and the mission of the organization, which has been feeding local families for 40 years. After spending a morning with the staff and volunteers in the garden, it is clear that it is in fact so much more than that.

After the past two years, surviving a global pandemic, historic fires and the challenges presented by everyday life, we all may feel our cups are running empty. It may feel harder to show up to work your most engaged self, to feel truly present with friends and family, and to feel that our self-care activities are doing the trick. I know that I’ve been in that place recently, running closer to empty than normal, hoping to find the rejuvenation I’ve been struggling to grasp.

Enter the whimsical, sunny, productive garden at sister carmen. A small plot growing everything from basil to carrots, with pumpkins, beans and tomatoes set to climb up trellises as the summer grows into fall. Flowers line the northeast side, a home for pollinators and a contributor to the brightening of the Sister Carmen office space, as volunteers distribute bouquets throughout the building to brighten everyday rooms. The garden is a home of its own, providing space and food for creatures like caterpillars to blossom into beautiful butterflies.

After only a few morning hours there, I felt a refresh I’ve been craving for months.

There are many ways to volunteer in the Sister Carmen Garden. Robyn, the extraordinary, passionate and knowledgeable caretaker, hosts camps of kids, corporate teams, and individuals alike to join her in the space that offers food and fuel for both body and soul. Tasks include picking vegetables, parceling portions for the food bank shelves, building fencing or garden boxes, and turning compost. Needs are tailored to meet the skills and goals of each individual or group of volunteers of all ages and differing talents.

The food grown in the garden goes into the Sister Carmen food bank, working to feed more than 50 families every day. This all organic, locally grown produce allows families in times of need to feel refreshed and proud of the food put on their table. The power of a good meal can go a long way to helping an individual get back on his or her feet.

So if you are feeling, perhaps, that your cup has been a little drained, your team could use an influx of fresh energy, or your family is seeming sluggish and disconnected, come volunteer at the Sister Carmen Garden! It promises to be a day of rejuvenation and connection to earth, all while providing valuable support for the Lafayette community and beyond.

Contact Robyn to find out more about volunteering opportunities in the garden.

“We may think we are nurturing our garden, but of course it’s our garden that is really nurturing us.” – Jenny Unglow

Get Involved by Volunteering at Sister Carmen!

Food Bank: Food Bank volunteers are critical to the mission of SCCC. Volunteers welcome donors, receive and weigh donations, sort food donations, check expiration dates, stock shelves, repackage bulk items, assist with coolers and check-out, and assist participants shopping for food. Shifts are Mon – Fri, 9:00-11:30, 11:30-2:00, or 2:00-4:30 PM. One 2.5 hour shift per week is required. 3 month minimum. Training provided.

Food Bank Box Runner: Tasks include packing and lifting 40+ lb. food boxes onto carts and into cars, working outside, and interfacing with the public. Shifts are Mon – Fri to be determined as we re-open (generally 2-3 hours).

Thrift Store: Tasks include thanking donors, unloading and sorting donations, putting items on shelves and racks, merchandising, and cleaning. Shifts are every day, 9:00 AM – 5:00 PM for 2+ hours; drop-in shifts available after training.

Front Office: Tasks include supporting our Office Manager, answering calls, greeting walk-ins, schedule appointments with advocates, assist with class sign-ins, share resource information. Bilingual helpful. Shifts are Mon – Fri, for 2+ hours, morning or afternoon.

Garden: Tasks include planting, weeding, watering, harvesting, composting, and more. No experience necessary. Shifts are 9:00 AM – 11:00 AM on Mondays and Thursdays.

Virtual Volunteering: Opportunities include organizing food drives, kit making (providing baggies of toiletries, feminine products, kids healthy snack bags, etc.), winter coat drives, and more.

Contact Ann@sistercarmen.org for more information on volunteering now or in the future.