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Sisters eating local food

This article is reprinted from fall 2008 issue of HOPE.

Exciting changes have been occurring in the Sisters of Providence Food Services Department at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods. Within the last few years the sisters have stopped using Styrofoam because it practically never decomposes in landfills; they serve vegetables from their own gardens and fruit from their orchards; they purchase vegetables, eggs, beef and pork from local farmers; they recycle everything possible; and they make off-road biodiesel fuel from their used cooking oil.

Deborah Heffernan is the director of Food Services. She said the Food Services staff, which consists of about 35 full-time and part-time employees, serves an average of 320 meals at lunchtime alone each weekday.

The gardens at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, where much of the delicious produce is grown, are managed and cared for by the staff members and volunteers at White Violet Center for Eco-Justice, a ministry of the Sisters of Providence. Deborah shares her menus with the organic/biodynamic gardener, Mark Trela, during the winter so the most useful vegetables can be grown for the kitchens the following year.

In 2007, a total of 4,978 pounds of fresh, local produce was served in the two Sisters of Providence dining rooms and in the Sisters of Providence Health Care Services.

“The sisters love it. They break beans. They shuck corn,” Deborah said. “In the fall we make spaghetti sauce from the tomatoes and freeze it for the winter.”

What doesn’t come from their own gardens is purchased from other local farmers, such as the Amish community in Rockville, Ind., and meat and eggs from the Royer family farm in Clinton, Ind.

“It just continues to get better,” Deborah said about the efforts to buy locally. “As the local farmers’ businesses increase, their production increases. We’re also saving transportation fuel since it’s local.”

Sister Adele Beacham lives in Owens Hall and helped break fresh green beans with other sisters one afternoon in July. “Good comes out of bad and families are now growing their own food,” she said. “That’s the good that comes of high transportation costs.”

Disposables aren’t what they use to be

Instead of Styrofoam that can’t be recycled when everyday dishes are not used, the kitchens now use biodegradable dinnerware that goes into the compost pile instead of the trash can.

“We can use it and reuse it in the garden compost,” Deborah said. “The costs for these items are coming down, but if you look at what Styrofoam does, cost is not an issue.”

Food scraps also go in the compost bins. For more than a year the sisters have been separating their non-protein food scraps into special compost containers near the dining rooms. Deborah said there was some education about what can and cannot be composted, but once that was established it has become routine.

“What we’ve done here has changed my life at home,” Deborah said. “We just learn right along with the sisters.”

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Cheryl Casselman

Cheryl Casselman worked as a marketing manager for the Sisters of Providence for twenty years. She grew up in Camby, Indiana and now lives in Sullivan County, Indiana. She has a bachelor's degree in communications from Indiana State University and master's degree in Leadership Development from Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College.

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