FAIRBORN — Overwintered spinach and garlic have already grown tall and healthy, and peas have popped out of the ground just in time for a garden blessing taking place this Sunday in Fairborn.
Mary, Help of Christians Church, located on North Maple Avenue, is celebrating the 25th anniversary of the community garden, which over the course of its existence has produced an estimated 20,000 pounds of fresh produce for local food pantries. The garden blessing will be on Sunday, April 25 following mass at 11:15 a.m.
The garden was established by parishioners Beverly and Bob Jurick, along with parishioner and Master Gardener Denise Wetzel. The garden is a joint project between MHC parishioners and OSU Extension Greene County Master Gardener Volunteers. Wetzel has been the garden manager for the entire 25 years.
All of the tomatoes, peppers, cabbage, squash, beans, peas, and other vegetables are as organic as possible, and all grown produce is donated to Fairborn FISH or St. Vincent De Paul.
“It has a huge impact on the nutritional value of the food from FISH,” Wetzel said. “For us, this is mission and ministry, we’re called to do it.”
Generally, the garden grows whatever clientele at Fairborn FISH likes. Okra, swiss chard and lettuce never took off, but tomatoes and peppers are really popular. Cabbage also sells like nutritious hotcakes.
Last year, the garden also gave away 40 pepper plants through Fairborn FISH, allowing Fairborn residents to grow vegetables in their own gardens.
Wetzel and the Juricks aren’t the only ones maintaining the community garden at the church. Parishoners of all ages have a hand in keeping the garden thriving.
“I’d send out an email; ‘Gardening starts at 9 o’clock,’ and everyone would just come out,” Wetzel said. “We have some great people.”
Those people include a member of the church in his 90s who regularly comes to dig weeds.
“We have everyone from fifth and sixth graders to people his age,” Beverly Jurick said. “It’s such fun.”
Additionally, the fifth and sixth grade Sunday school classes at the church grow seeds in their classrooms, planting them in pots in an indoor greenhouse. In the springtime, the class will then go out and plant the seedlings in the dirt.
“Not only are we planting seeds in the ground, but we’re planting seeds in the minds of these kids to become future gardeners themselves,” Wetzel added.
Originally only four beds and 1,600 square feet, the garden has since grown to include 16 beds, and over 3,400 square feet.
As part of a 2014 renovation, the garden gained six raised concrete beds, a PVC irrigation system, 12 rain barrels holding 55 gallons each, and a compost station. The $5,000 renovation, funded mostly through donations, vastly expanded the garden’s ability to produce fresh food.
“Nothing is wasted,” Wetzel noted.
The construction of the garden is also as sustainable as possible. Some beds are also made from recycled materials. Stairs from the old Women’s Network building, which formerly sat behind the church before being torn down, were recycled into raised beds. Last year, volunteers were able to give away 120 cabbages planted in rows made from the old stairs.
The flowers grown in the garden also serve an important purpose. Often, they will go to decorate the interior of the church on special occasions, as well as comforting people who are sick.
“They say vegetables are food for the body, but flowers are food for the soul,” Wetzel said.
Even 25 years later, the garden continues to grow. This year, volunteers planted the first pollinator garden for the space, which includes swamp milkweed, bee balm, lavender, and butterfly bushes. These plants, which attract a plethora of honeybees, butterflies, and other insects, will help maintian the health of plants throughout the city in addition to the garden itself for years to come.
Reach London Bishop at 937-502-4532 or follow @LBishopFDH on Twitter.