Friday, May 4, 2012

Hot Day in the FPC Corral: City-County Community Garden Grant Awards Cause Fainting

Yesterday was an exciting day for the Stoddart Avenue Community Garden. First, Bexley electrician Mitch Stewart fixed the grouchy Garden Manager’s 25-year old air-conditioner in less than ten minutes – a new personal record – and a godsend on a day that reached 90 degrees. (Thanks Mitch!) Then, over 100 bags of mulch, top soil, garden soil, and hummus donated to the SACG by Scotts Miracle-Gro was delivered by Justin and Juan (as promised by CEO John and scheduled by Jimmy) from CleanTurn International LLC. Picking up, transporting, unloading and stacking all of those bags would have been very difficult for the SACG team on the tight schedule provided by FPC (i.e., only Thursday afternoon or Saturday morning), so we are extremely appreciative that CleanTurn volunteered to pick up and deliver the Scotts Miracle-Gro donation for any community garden that asked. We are also appreciative of the fact that FPC permitted CleanTurn to start their deliveries in the morning because there were so many gardens who received similar donations. (In fact, my orange-clad Juan and Justin CleanTurn team had been working since 8 a.m. and had been to the American Addition community garden off Joyce Avenue before coming to the SACG). As hot as it was when Justin and Juan arrived at 11:40, I’m sure it was much hotter later in the afternoon when the rest of the gardens received their materials. We were also blessed that new guy, Frances, was strolling around Build the Bridge of Ohio next door and jumped in to help Justin and Juan unload the truck.

As a personal observation, that Justin is one strong dude. On Monday, I had built a 4x6 platform raised garden bed out of cedar. However, it was still upside down and I did not have the strength to turn it over without damaging it so that I could finish the last side and add the bench seats. Barb and Cathy both stopped by the SACG on Wednesday and offered to help me, but I didn’t think we could do it even together. I figured the CleanTurn guys would be strong enough and suggested to Justin that this garden damsel in distress needed some help. Instead of waiting for Juan to come back with the truck, Justin pretty much lifted the entire bed with one arm, twirled it over his head and then set it down on all four legs facing the correct direction. Ok. I’m exaggerating a bit. But he flipped it all by himself without breaking it. I have been reduced to an all new level of puniness.

Then, it was off to beautiful Franklin Park Conservatory for the award ceremony of the community garden grants collectively awarded by the City of Columbus, Franklin County, 5/3 Bank, the Columbus Foundation and Franklin Park Conservatory. There were approximately 200 community gardeners and other officials (like Dr. Teresa Long, Ms. Seckler, etc.). According to the official press release, there were 76 applicants (all of whom generously received requested product from Scotts Miracle-Gro) and 43 of the applicants received funding.   I walked in with some teachers from Lincoln Park Elementary School who had received a grant to upgrade their school garden. There were a lot of other school teachers there, too, from Whetstone and folks from Otterbein College and Southside Settlement. There was a long line to check in (because, if you did not arrange for CleanTurn to deliver your product, you received your donated Scotts Miracle-Gro materials in the order you checked in).  It quickly became apparent that this would be a hot and sunny day, so I put on my garden hat to hide the fact I was melting into a very bad hair day. Peggy was graciously shuttling between the refreshment line and the check-in line to make sure we were all hydrated. (Thanks Peggy!). Bill Dawson was also on hand to personally greet every garden leader and ask detailed questions to show-off his memory of all things personal.

The SACG received a grant to build platform raised garden beds, start a fruit orchard, support the Block Watch garden across the street and replenish our neighbor plots. I’ve attached a picture of the very pretty Certificate of Honor and Recognition for the SACG signed by Columbus Mayor Coleman and City Council President Ginther. Of course, all of the gardens in attendance received one. I ran into the Growing Hearts and Hands Community Garden leaders en masse (i.e., Pepper, KT and Richard) and heard about all of the different groups and organizations that send them volunteers to help with their program. The Rebuilding Together Tool Library team also has an impressive produce garden in front of their warehouse and was in attendance (having shut down for the afternoon to pick up their donated materials). I also picked up a snazzy water bottle from the Columbus Health Department and an apron and useful fan from 5/3 Bank.

Speaking of 5/3 Bank, they had dozens and dozens of volunteers on hand to handle check-in and keep things moving. The ceremony was scheduled for May 3 because it was, after all, 5/3 Day.

Then, there was a very formal ceremony. The podium was in the hot sun and there were small tents for the VIPs (in suits and ties). The rest of us (in much more casual and comfortable clothing) struggled with finding a shady spot that was close enough to the podium to hear the speakers.  I stayed close to the Epworth Methodist gardening goddess.   The 5/3 volunteers were clearly not used to working in such heat and stayed up front and close to the podium while we hardened gardeners flocked to the back (and the shade). FPC’s Bruce kicked things off. He announced that the American Public Garden Association conference would be in Columbus in June and explained that the American Community Garden Association had relocated its headquarters to FPC because of the wide community support for community gardens in Central Ohio.

Franklin County Commissioner John O’Grady credited the public-private partnerships in Central Ohio for making the grant awards possible for so many local community gardens. He was particularly excited about the partnerships which include UWCO, Franklinton Community Garden and others for making fresh produce available in local food deserts. He said “good things grow together.” Catchy.

City Councilperson Priscilla Tyson then spoke. I have to admit that I could not hear much of what she said. She talked about the beginnings of the community garden grant program and began thanking supporters by name. There were some people in the back (and I knew each and every one of them) who were conversing loudly because they assumed that if they could not hear from back there, they wouldn’t be disturbing anyone. Of course, that wasn’t true and those of us ten feet closer to the action had to shush them. Really people. However, the real excitement of the afternoon came when one of the 5/3 volunteers – bless her heart – fainted soon after Mrs. Tyson stood up. She was quickly helped to her feet, but I had to practically pull her back into the shade b/c she didn’t want to be any trouble. (People suffering from heat stroke cannot be expected to exercise good judgment). Other 5/3 volunteers found a shady place for her to sit, formed a fan brigade around her to create a cool breeze and others brought her water to drink. Not to be outdone, Peggy found really cold water for her. After the ceremony ended, Dr. Long sauntered back to check on her, too. I bet she never forgets this 5/3 day:)

There were some boys who looked like the Jonas Brothers talking about their garden. Then, Bill Dawson closed the ceremony by making all of us come up for a giant group picture and the gardening O-H cheer: O-H-I-Grow. He also explained how the distribution of the materials would work for those organizations that did not arrange for CleanTurn to deliver their donations. There was some grumbling from some of the gardens about not knowing about CleanTurn’s offer (to which I explained that they should have attended the GCGC meeting at the Columbus Foundation explaining the process and CleanTurn’s offer and then told them when and where the next GCGC meeting would be). There were a lot of organizations who were then going to have to spend that hot afternoon loading and unloading heavy bags. They were very lucky to have lots of 5/3 volunteers on hand to help them because the groups picking up their materials on Saturday were not going to have any help. I, on the other hand, sauntered back to my car and my air-conditioned house to prepare for the next phase of the day.

I picked up additional supplies at Lowe’s and then returned to the SACG to finish the first platform raised bed (built entirely with seriously expensive cedar lumber that was donated by Lowe’s Home Improvement Store on East Broad Street). Gardener Mike had cut notches into two of the boards to make room for the legs. Two neighbor girls stopped by while I was applying glue around the joints, stapling garden fabric in as a lining (with a stapler borrowed for free from Rebuilding Together) and then emptying five bags of top soil into it to stabilize it. (Did you know that the Scotts top soil also has peat in it? No wonder it’s more expensive than generic). Again, I am so puny. A second grader can carry and empty a bag of top soil all by herself and even I find that to be an effort. Oh well.

On Saturday morning, we will be building two more of these raised platform beds: One with cedar lumber donated again by Lowe’s and one with lumber purchased with our new grant and all filled with donated Scotts Miracle-Grow products.   We will also be building some regular raised beds for the kids in our fledgling 4-H program and maybe a compost bin (built with cedar lumber donated by Trudeau Fence Company in Hilliard).   We could always use more volunteers to help make these projects go faster:) The work is not that difficult, as evidenced by the fact that I could do it by myself with the help of a second-grader and kindergartener.  But many hands make light work.

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