Chuck Williams: Good year on the Broadway farm

chwilliams@ledger-enquirer.comJuly 15, 2013 

I am two years into this urban agriculture experiment.

Our community garden — it is a fairly small community with nine families, all of whom live downtown — is in full production right now. We have tomatoes, butter beans, purple hull peas, mild banana peppers, scorching habaneros, okra, eggplant, cucumbers, basil and more herbs than I can name.

Simply put, we have plenty of food to split nine ways a couple of times a week.

And it is all growing within the shadow of the Government Center, taking up the better part of half a city lot.

One friend walked through it a couple of weeks ago and said it was pretty close to a commercial garden.

We take that as a compliment. And it shows we learned a lot from last year. For example, the beans are now growing vertical. That may not mean much to you, but it has produced a number of pickings and way more beans than we got a year ago.

The tomatoes have a temporary structure over them, torn bed sheets pull the plants skyward. No kidding, we have a 10-foot cherry tomato plant in what my wife dubbed “Mater Manor.” I shake my head every time I look at it.

In part, the success is due to the huge amount of rain we have had since planting Easter weekend. But it also can be credited to a lot of hard work weeding, putting poles and lines in place, and picking.

No doubt, picking and dividing it up is the fun part. It is hard to express the sense of accomplishment when you have a couple of tables loaded with a variety of colorful produce you and others have grown.

Columbus Mayor Teresa Tomlinson wants to see more community gardens, and she currently has the Columbus Planning Department looking at the idea.

“You are seeing more and more cities encouraging urban agriculture,” Tomlinson said.

The mayor is exploring ways to use vacant lots owned by the city. She is looking for ways the private sector can contribute to the project and ways to get neighbors to work the garden and distribute the bounty. She would like to target distressed areas, possibly with mini-farmers’ markets.

It’s a good idea.

There are a lot of areas that could benefit from community gardens. But don’t be fooled — they are hard work and require a wide variety of skill sets. They also require people working together and being on the same page about the use — or non-use — of fertilizers and pesticides. What we are finding in our garden — jokingly called the Broadway Farm — is it provides a platform for community building. We are finding the soil is perfect for growing a number of vegetables. But it should be; it’s a block off the river and it probably hasn’t been farmed in more than a century.

That said, I wish the mayor the best of luck. But don’t think it’s going to easy. A large garden translates into a lot of work.

But for us, it seems to be worth it. I hope others can find that joy.

Chuck Williams, senior editor for content, chwilliams@ledger-enquirer.com.

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