Monday, June 6, 2016

Ohio After-School All-Stars Work Up a Sweat at the SACG

It may shock some of you to know that I spent a good part of the Spring volunteering for Governor Kasich's campaign.  In March, just before I passed out our annual newsletter and gardener invitation in our neighborhood, I attended a rally for him at the Conservatory’s Wells Barn where Arnold introduced him and talked about one of his signature programs, the After School All-Stars.  One of the local All-Stars even spoke at the event.  So, it should not have been a surprise to me this evening to learn that the group of middle school students that helped the Stoddart Avenue Community Garden this afternoon were Ohio After School All Stars who are attending a week-long camp at OSU focused on career planning.  I really should research these groups before they volunteer, instead of afterwards.  I might have been nicer to them and made them some of my signature no-bake chocolate cookies . . . .

A couple of months ago, I was contacted by my buddy at Keep Columbus Beautiful about whether I could use 50 middle schoolers at the SACG.   Over the course of a couple of weeks, that increased to 60.  Always desperate for volunteers, I agreed and then realized that I probably couldn’t supervise all of those kids.  I reached out to a number of nearby non-profits, but only Urban Connections agreed to take some kids.  So, then I reached out to a giant community garden a mile from us – Four Seasons City Farm (who are my favorite socialists) – to see if they could take at least a third of the kids.  Sure, they said.   They ended up getting the entire group of 6th graders.
I picked up tools from the Tool Library and litter grabbers, etc. from KCB earlier this week.  I organized a bunch of projects and arrived this afternoon just after 2 p.m.  We ended up with 14 volunteers and sent another 6 over to Urban Connections (where they mulched paths and stained their deck). I’ve had lots of high school students in the past, but this was my first group of middle school students. 

I started them off with a brief tour and introduced them to our strawberry patch.  They wasted no time in grabbing and eating ripe strawberries (unlike our firefighter visitors from yesterday).   I assigned one group to weed and prune around the outside of our fence and the scrub brush growing in the Block Watch Lot across the Street.  Although they liked using the big lopper pruners, they got bored quickly and only their advisors continued to work.  Some of them switched to picking up litter along Stoddart Avenue and they filled four bags (and even took them to the dumpster before I asked (because they did not anticipate that I like to get small group photographs of the litter crew with their trophy bags).  Two teams of four were assigned 100 square feet each to weed before planting tomatoes, peppers and sweet potatoes in our two food pantry plots (where we grow the produce that we take to the Lutheran Social Services food pantry, Faith Mission Homeless Shelter and the St. Vincent de Paul pantry).  They planted at least two flats of tomatoes and peppers.   (Well done!).   Another team of three was assigned the task of filling watering cans with our newly filled tanks from next door and watering each and every vegetable plant in the entire Garden, as well as the neighbor plots, the strawberry patch, the blueberry bushes and our new cherry trees.   I even let them walk into plots (which is strictly verboten otherwise).    
A bunch of the kids began to gather around our picnic table (which is where I put the bottled water donated by KCB).  It was a very hot and sunny day, after all.    But, I can’t stand to see people standing around when there is a lot of work to do.  So, I put them to work planting peppers in the raised bed over there.  Finally!  Something that they seemed to enjoy.   I also had a couple of the young ladies deadhead our extensive collection of daisies.   A couple of the kids got jealous that the Kimball Farms Community Garden next door has a watering hose to water their vegetable seedlings and I’m pretty sure that I saw a couple of them helping out there when they got bored helping at the SACG.    I know that a couple of them appreciated getting squirted with that hose as well.   Luckily, Urban Connections also sent over a box of cookies to keep the kids' spirits up.  Working with me is not always fun . . .

Reliable Amy came to help me with keeping the kids focused, but she ended up helping one of their leaders finish weeding and planting tomatoes after the rest of her team had deserted her.   Being Amy, she continued to work even after they left.    Truth be told, the advisors did most of the work today and were cheerful to boot.  I would tip my hat to them, but I hate to show the world my hat hair.
Perpetually grumpy garden lady that I am, I grumbled at the kids when they killed some pepper seedlings.  Grumble grumble.  And I wouldn’t let them leave until I was sure that I had found all of the tools that they had used.  Being kids – like the kids who regularly garden in their own raised beds at the SACG – they typically left their tools wherever they were standing when they got bored.  I have to track down everything and put it back in the right place to ensure that the right tools get back to our shed, KCP and the Tool Library . . . .  .  I also picked up the litter that they left behind.  Grumble grumble.  Every parent knows of what I speak.

The kids were not anxious to get back on the hot school bus for a ride back to the OSU campus (although the kids with evening shower privileges were lording it over the kids with morning shower privileges because everyone was hot, sweaty and covered with a thin layer of dirt).  I had told them earlier about the sweet bing cherries which were hanging from the trees we planted across the street during the 2012 drought.   NOW, they really wanted them and attacked those trees with gusto.    It’s too bad that they didn’t come a week later because our black raspberries are starting to ripen.   The OASAS advisors that helped Urban Connections came by and I gave them a tour of our Garden.  They, like everyone else, really liked our extremely popular Free Little Library at the corner of Stoddart and Cherry.
Everyone’s hard work this afternoon means that I might not have to put in 6+ full hours on Saturday to fill in our empty spaces.   That makes me happy because it’s going to be extremely hot this Saturday and it’s the weekend of the Columbus Arts Festival.

Now, I’m sure that you are wondering how it was that we had water on hand today when both of our rain cisterns were bone dry on Saturday.  Well, ironically, I had help from some public sector union employees and I don’t know how much I should go into it here.  I know that this particular union has been extraordinarily helpful for other community gardens and I’ve never really needed their help in our prior seven years.  But desperate times call for desperate measures.  I had All-Stars coming who would need to water and plant.  (Otherwise, they would be stuck only weeding and picking up litter).   The City’s rain cistern re-filling program has been on hiatus since last Fall.    I visited their workplace and just asked (without going into a lot of details or even showing them any of the exhibits which I had
prepared to plead my case).  They dropped whatever they were doing at that very instant and came and filled both of our tanks to the top.  Then, disaster struck and they couldn’t leave for over an hour.  Of course, I waited with them and took that time to offer them fresh strawberries and cherries and then turned to weeding the fence line.   Little Jaden even visited from across the street and they let him sit in the driver’s seat.   I’d send them some fresh produce in a few weeks, but they made it clear to me that they have no clue how to cook anything from scratch.  Maybe I’ll drop off a berry pie . . . .     I'll more publicly thank them once I know that it won't get them into trouble . . .
As I left last night, Jaden’s father, Kevin, asked if he could buy us another fruit tree because the kids like them so much.  Sure, I said (if you dig the hole to plant it).   When he asked about another peach tree, I suggested that he speak with Barb and Frank because those go in the Block Watch lot.  We could use one more sour cherry tree, or, truth be told, I’d like to have a plum tree (because I hear that they are also low maintenance and I like the fruit). 

Speaking of the weather and the exhibits I prepared about our current dilemma.  Storms in Columbus typically split into two when they hit downtown and reassemble over Reynoldsburg, leaving us high and dry while my sister near Dublin collects an unseemly amount of rain. This phenomena has driven me out of my mind for the last eight years.  I even occasionally  -- like I did yesterday – take screen prints of the weather radar to show this to other people.   On top of this, El Nino has greatly reduced both our precipitation and increased our heat.  NOAA just announced that we are 30% more likely to have a
hotter summer this year than last year (which, I will admit, isn’t saying much because last year was cool and wet).  Our anticipated precipitation is likely to be the same as usual (i.e., less than last year).  That is not a good combination.  I will have to quickly get some bales of straw to the Garden.  Our current supply of water is likely to last only two weeks.    I now wish that I had started some Sioux tomatoes because they are bred for hot and dry summers.  Oh well.  I have a few such tomatoes in my collections, so I’ll get by.  I may have to train my gardeners about cheap irrigation techniques (many of which I used during the 2012 drought) so that we can make our tanks last an extra week between rainfalls. . . . . .

I should probably eat something now after my two cocktails.  Until it rains again . . .  .

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