“It’s a beautiful tomato,” Josh Arcaro coos just outside of the kitchen at Mariandale Retreat and Conference Center. “I would cut this up into sixths or eighths, leave it raw, drizzle it with extra-virgin olive oil.”

Mr. Arcaro is the Chef Manager at FLIK (which is the food provider for Mariandale) and

Josh Arcaro holds an heirloom tomato

he manages thefruit-and-vegetable garden on the property. After the Dominican Sisters of Hope requested healthier foods for the retreat center in March 2015, Josh got to work planting a sizable garden that now grows heirloom tomatoes among other “beauties” used to provide wholesome, nutritious meals for Mariandale and all who visit it.

According to Mr. Arcaro, nutrition begins from the ground up. The garden uses organic compost for soil and remains one-hundred percent organic; it uses no pesticides, herbicides, or chemicals. The nearby beehives and community garden on the property help maintain an ecosystem that is good for the plants and, ultimately, those who consume them.

The Mariandale Garden

“All of the microbes in the soil nourish the plants, and the plants nourish people,” Regina Blakeslee, who volunteers at the garden, explains.

Research has proven that eating naturally can help restore the immune system and gut health, and it’s only better when the produce comes from right outside your window.

“It’s all about the connection, the interconnectedness,” Ms. Blakeslee says.

When she talks about tending to the FLIK garden and the Dominican Sisters of Hope community garden, it almost sounds like she’s describing a spiritual experience: “You forget about all your troubles,” she says warmly. “It’s a connection with Earth, a relationship.”

Josh Arcaro and Regina Blakeslee in the Mariandale garden

Interconnectedness is important for the Dominican Sisters of Hope who count community gardens, their corporate stances including one on climate change, and an evolving spirituality as important aspects of their collective identity. Just last week, Dominican Sister of Hope Louise Levesque preached on the concept of interconnectedness in her homily for the sisters’ Saint Dominic’s Day celebration.

“Our fragile planet is threatened by global climate change; it cries out for sustainability and reverence for life,” she told the crowd. “We are arriving at a new consciousness about the evolving universe and its essential harmony. Everything exists in relation to everything else.”

In the midst of flowering vines and bushes, her words rang more true than ever.

For Mr. Arcaro, the garden marks a significant step in both nutrition and sustainability at Mariandale.

“We can’t rely on multi-million-dollar corporations for our produce anymore,” he says. “And we create a huge carbon footprint from shipping food across the country, or internationally.”

Regina Blakeslee points to a honeybee pollinating in the garden

Environmental factors –not least the major drought in California– leave the future of many U.S.-grown crops uncertain. However, putting to use the planting prowess he learned first-hand from his Italian grandmother, Mr. Arcaro sees the garden at Mariandale as a valuable alternative.

Five months into fruition, the garden boasts cucumbers, cabbage, jalapenos, bell peppers, yellow squash, zucchini, eggplant, romaine lettuce, red-leaf lettuce, mesclun mix lettuce, beets, celery, cilantro, thyme, parsley, broccoli, oregano, basil, arugula, a variety of tomatoes, pears, blueberries, apples, and sunflowers. The next few months will see the planting of radishes, squashes, and peas, as well as more beets and lettuces.

The garden is expected to harvest through the fall, and some plants are flowering now to provide the seeds for next year’s crop. Between self-seeding, perennial plants, and savings on labor and delivery expenses, the garden saves the Mariandale kitchen up to two-hundred dollars each week on food costs.

As financially prudent as homegrown produce is, money is not the bottom line.

As Mr. Arcaro and Ms. Blakeslee fawn over one particular tomato, another positive result of the garden comes to mind. Home-grown produce might be the most nutritious and the most environmentally friendly, but it also tastes good. In the kitchen, Mr. Arcaro can prepare simpler meals with much bigger flavor, allowing the freshness of the produce to shine through. Recent dishes have included roasted corn gazpacho, trout salad with pea shoots and spring onions, mango-and-shrimp tacos, wheat-berry chili with a kale, quinoa, and almond salad, fresh berry strudels and smoothies.

And, from the sounds of it, a fresh tomato salad might be served up next.

“The simpler, the better,” Ms. Blakeslee says in response to the scrumptious-sounding dish. The list of advantages of having the garden is long and hearty, but, smelling the vine-ripened fruit, the two let their stomachs guide their thoughts.

“The fewer ingredients, the better,” she concludes. “Let the flavor of the food come forth and nourish.”