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Growing to give: the story behind St. Peter’s Organic Victory Garden in Bay Shore

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Stephanie Campbell is using her green thumb to revive a decades-old garden — and also as a way to give back. 

Campbell is the garden coordinator of the St. Peter’s Victory Garden, a hidden, peaceful farm tucked behind St. Peter’s by-the-Sea Episcopal Church at 500 S. Country Rd. in Bay Shore. 

The retired teacher spends most of her days gardening, mulching, tending to produce, educating visitors, and even ‘dumpster diving’ for cardboard — all in an effort to cultivate an organic sanctuary and community gathering spot. 

“We kind of brought the farm back to life,” said Campbell, a parishioner at St. Peter’s. “When COVID hit, everything stopped, so I was kind of sad, but it was kind of a godsend to a couple of us because we could come here during COVID and work.” 

The Victory Garden kicked off its first year just as the pandemic took a foothold in New York.

COVID presented a challenge, but because of the ability to socially-distance, Campbell and some of the other volunteers received the green light from St. Peter’s parish and the Episcopal Ministries of Long Island, who awarded Campbell a grant, to keep going. 

They planted 300 rows of pumpkin seeds. And at harvest time, when families came for pumpkin-picking, the volunteers raised about $300 to the Island Harvest Food Bank

One of the main missions of the Victory Garden is to grow produce to give back to local outreach centers, soup kitchens and struggling communities, especially those hit hard by the pandemic. 

Every other Tuesday, Campbell said she would pack up her car with produce and drive to Christ Episcopal Church in Brentwood, one of the Long Island towns hit hardest by COVID. 

“There are people who really needed help,” she said. 

This summer, at the almost three-acre property, there are garden beds and plots scattered throughout the farm, housing flowers, along with onions, kale, potatoes, carrots and other varieties of produce. 

In one corner of the property stands a barn that is used to store tools, first-aid kits, bug spray, and other items. 

A special St. Peter’s prayer with a heartfelt message about kindness hangs in the heart of the barn. 

One of the main attractions is the “Monarch Waystation,” an international registry where gardeners can learn what they can grow in their area to attract monarch butterflies, and see other butterfly stations on a global map. 

There are also about 10 beehives, managed by beekeeper Thomas Santorelli. The bees have become essential pollinators of the garden. 

“The big idea this year was to grow food that transports easily, and being a sustainable garden,” Campbell said, noting the garden’s “Island Harvest” plot. “The food we grow, we give away — the gardeners are really generous. I call it like a ‘grow and give’ garden: you grow extra bounty and you think about giving back.” 

The garden is 100 percent organic. Pesticides, Miracle Grow and commercial weed killers are not used — only natural methods. 

For example, the cardboard Campbell collects is covered in mulch and used to keep the weeds down. 

Community volunteers and other members of the parish pitch in with such tasks as mowing the grass and fixing up the barn. Among the contributors are Pastor Brian Clark and Bishop Itty of St. Peter’s. Neither shies away from lending a hand or offering support. 

This is the community garden’s second year of operation, and Campbell is seeking more volunteers. 

She welcomes anyone who would like to come purchase their own plots or any groups who would like to arrange a visit to learn about what they grow and what it means to be an organic grower. 

For her, it’s all about getting back to nature and using nature’s resources to help others who need it. 

“How often do people get a chance to see this,” she said. “People sometimes live in a bubble, and you can stay in that bubble and not see, or step out of it and see there are people struggling and people with needs, and you have to feel like you can take that step and think what can I do to help, and this is just St. Peter’s way of saying ‘go for it.’” 

Scroll down for photos of St. Peter’s Organic Victory Garden.

Here’s what you need to know about growing your own garden or being a volunteer gardener at St. Peter’s Victory Garden:

  • Daily watering and tools available on over two arches of green space, open seven days a week. 
  • Free 10×20 plots to Cub Scouts, Girl Scouts, local faith-based organizations and community centers. Raised garden beds for children and individuals with special needs. 
  • Students get volunteer hours and certificates for helping out. 
  • Plots start at $150 for 10×20, $200 for 20×20 and Campbell said they are flowing with growth within a few weeks. 

Top: Garden coordinator Stephanie Campbell (left) and Pastor Brian Clark (right).