Five-year-old Maeve Pawlowski, who just finished kindergarten at Heritage Elementary School in Pickerington, plants sweet peppers in her plot in the Pickerington community garden. Her area also features sunflowers planted in a circle, and when they are full-grown the heads will be tied together to make a “tepee” where she can play with her friends.
“It really does take a village to raise a garden.”
That’s the sentiment old town Pickerington resident Eric Pawlowski takes to heart. He has spent a lifetime with his hands in the dirt, believing with all his being that growing your own food is the only way to live.
You can see it when he covers his eyes and squints to look at the progress of the numerous plots located on East Columbus Street, near the water tower. You can see it when he kneels down to tenderly look at the leaves of a cabbage plant, which might be under attack by a rare beetle. But more than anything, you can see his love for the land when he helps his 5-year-old daughter, Maeve, transplant a half dozen sweet pepper plants into her own little garden area.
He helps her dig a trench, measures out how far apart the plants should be, and hands her a little shovel. It’s apparent she has been taught well as she gently loosens the roots of the plants, spreads the soil and taps it tightly down around the stem. Each new plant gets a full cup of water around the base, and perhaps most importantly, each new plant is wished good luck in its journey in the soil.
Pawlowski is the farm manager at Shepherd’s Corner Farm and Ecology Center of the Dominican Sisters of Peace on Waggoner Road in Blacklick, and is also a member of the American Community Gardening Association. He learned early on to grow his own food, and despite having a degree in anthropology, he decided to pursue agriculture as a career.
“Being outside, seeing the cycles of nature, it’s very alluring,” he admitted.
Pawlowski said he spent so much time helping with the Pickerington Community Garden over the past two years that Maeve finally decided she wanted a plot of her own.
“She asked if she could have her own garden, and I said most certainly,” he said. “She chose what type of plants she wanted to do, but I chose the varieties.”
This is the second year for the Pickerington Community Garden, and the idea seems to be taking root. According to Dan Ross, coordinator of Parks and Recreation for the city of Pickerington, all 45 of the available plots have been rented this summer. For Pickerington residents, a 20-foot-by-15-foot plot is $20, and a 40-foot-by-15-foot plot is $40.
So who are the gardeners?
“I think mostly it’s people who don’t have enough area to do it,” Ross said. “People who just love to garden and don’t have the space.”
Chuck Losey, a resident of the Park Place subdivision, helped to confirm Ross’ suspicions.
“The city lot I have is kind of small,” Losey admitted when he was out at the Pickerington Community Garden on a recent summer afternoon. He laughed as he said, “I call it a postage stamp.”
Losey has two plots at the Pickerington Community Garden, where he is growing tomatoes, zucchini, pumpkin, watermelon and two varieties of peppers. He plans to share his bounty with his children and grandchildren, and like many of the other community gardeners, he intends to donate any excess to an area food pantry.
“It’s really quiet out here,” Losey said, noting it is his first year participating in the project. “They did a nice job prepping the soil. They brought water in, and they mow.”
Although Pawlowski was instrumental in seeing the Pickerington Community Garden project come to fruition, he pointed out it took the efforts of countless people to make it a success. He said TJ Stephens, one of the Pickerington Community Garden’s most avid supporters, brought a work crew to make a trail accessing the nearby creek. In addition, Pickerington Mayor Mitch O’Brien supported the idea for a community garden from its inception, Pawlowski noted.
“When the community came out and said, ‘How are we going to garden without water?’ Mitch O’Brien helped make it happen,” Pawlowski said, gesturing to a truck with a 500-gallon water tank on it available for gardeners to take to their plots via buckets. “Water has proven to be one of our more difficult constraints. We don’t really have water accessible to the site.”
One of the pluses for the location is the quality of the rich soil, which has improved this year after the planting of a cover crop last fall.
“The soil here is very nice,” Pawlowski said of the former pasture. “It drains well.”
All told, he said, it’s a perfect site for a community garden – with plenty of space to double in size next year.
“Rome’s not built in a day,” he said. “They sold out this year; we’re going to expand next year. This is all here due to feedback from our community.”
He brushes the dirt from his hands and thoughtfully ponders, “If you build it, they will come.”