Forest Park may be losing a great American tradition with the cancellation of our Fourth of July fireworks but, thanks to the folks from the community garden, we still have apple pie. The group’s Apple Pie Bake-Off will culminate with a fundraiser at Molly Malone’s upper room, on Oct. 21, from 2 to 5 p.m. Mayor Calderone, Rich Schauer and Connie Brown have volunteered to judge 15 pies baked by local amateurs.

The contest is the brainchild of Maria Onesto Moran, director of the Forest Park Community Garden. She sees the event as a great cap-off to what has otherwise been a difficult growing season. Though the garden now has a watering system to replace the barrels, the drought greatly reduced the harvest. Several gardeners, though, had a surplus they were able to donate to the food pantry.

Maria and her cohorts are certainly civic-minded, dedicating five of their 50 plant beds to growing fresh fruits and vegetables for the pantry. They are also inclusive, charging $30 per plot, the least-expensive rate in the area. The money has been used to expand the garden, install a security fence and upgrade the water system. They’re hoping to use the proceeds from the bake-off to hire a part-time person to manage the gardens.

This year’s fundraiser is admittedly a “pie-lot” program, noted Michelle Woehrle, another volunteer on the garden’s board. If it’s successful, more bakers will be invited next year. Aside from the slices to be sampled, the event will include a silent auction and raffle. Attendees will also receive drink tickets, snacks and free seeds.

Michelle was brand-new to gardening when she and her husband moved to Forest Park four years ago. After years of apartment dwelling, they found themselves with a huge backyard. She learned the value of organic gardening from the founders of the community garden, Jessica Rinks and Gina Thomas. They taught her how to compost, when to plant and the value of rotating her vegetables. This year, she’s producing tomatoes, pumpkins and her husband’s favorite snack, popcorn.

Though she’s a newcomer to gardening, Michelle learned cooking from her mom – an avid baker who recognized the importance of butter. Michelle is a purist, who enjoys making pies from scratch. The recipe for her apple pie includes flour for the flaky crust and a secret concoction of spices to accent the apple slices. She prefers it served ala mode, though there is a growing movement to top apple pie with a slice of cheddar cheese.

Michelle sees the community garden as more than a producer of healthy food. Its “Giving Garden” provides free fresh flowers and herbs and it has increased foot traffic in what used to be a forbidding place. Those who want to support the group, or enter their own pie, can email, or call 708-689-9781.