In the subdued light of a May evening, gardeners are toiling away in their plots at the Columbus Community Garden.
Decked out in workout clothing or cast-offs from their daily wardrobes, gardeners are weeding, watering, tilling and settling young plants into new ground. Pinwheels stir in the breeze and aluminum pie pans suspended from stakes clap against each other to deter pests.
Mary Bevers, her son, Joshua Clendenen, and her mother, Deborah Minniefield, have come out to plots 46 and 56 — their plots — to weed and water on this weekday night.
Bevers, who works in medical billing at St. Vincent Hospital in Indianapolis, worked in the same community gardens as a child, helping her mother.
“I have a brother and a sister — and we all hated coming out here,” she said. “It was hot, and it was sweaty, hard work."
But time changed the way she felt.
“When you get older, there’s that element of getting back to your roots,” Bevers said.
Located just off Cessna Drive near the Columbus Municipal Airport, the Columbus Community Garden took root in 1982.
Under guidance of the Irwin-
Sweeney-Miller Foundation, the community garden was launched in the area where FairOaks Mall now sits on 25th Street. It was there a year before moving to Cessna Drive.
The city took over managing the project in 1984, which is now in its 33rd year.
The garden consists of 62 large plots (45 feet x 22.5 feet) and 46 small ones (22.5 x 22.5 feet square).
For the season, fees are $15 for large plots and $10 for small plots.
Plots 46 and 56
On Good Friday, following tradition, Bevers planted potatoes.
She made the 45-minute trip from her Jackson County home in Freetown — which she makes three or four times a week to check on the garden — and met Minniefield there.
It was Minniefield who brought the potato tops, which had sprouted eyes and looked like aliens with lumpy tentacles.
Bevers dug 34 holes in two rows, about a foot apart.
Once filled, the holes were covered with straw to protect the potato plants from bugs and the chills that crop up, even in late spring.
“Boy, these have some good eyes,” Minniefield said as she sifted through the bag of starter potatoes.
Bevers placed them in the soil, eyes up.
She started the garden plots to produce healthy food for her family; to get her son engaged with the earth, and because working in the garden has a curative effect on her.
“I’m more excited when I’ve already been here for the day or if I’m heading here,” Bevers said. “It’s really therapeutic.”
Two days before she planted the potatoes, using a dinosaur of a tiller, Bevers tilled the plot, loosening the dirt and stirring up glass, rocks and other debris.
She and her family began planting after that.
They purchased a rain barrel and painted it with their plot’s theme colors: hot pink, yellow and blue.
The family also worked to recycle where they could, using wood salvaged from their garage for stakes; spray-painting old chairs for garden resting spots, and tying up stakes with used knee-high stockings. In May, the family added a bed frame — taken from a fussy daybed of Minniefield’s — to support the young tomato plants.
And the garden responded. Each visit, something new had pushed its way from the recesses of the soil.
Rows to hoe
Columbus is home to about 10 community gardens run by various agencies in locations all around the city.
Kris Medic, Agriculture, Natural Resources, Economic and Community Development educator for the Purdue Extension — Bartholomew County, has organized community garden walkabouts for the Master Gardener program she oversees.
“As the Extension Educator, I take an interest in activities where people are learning how to garden together and problem-solve and work at the neighborhood level.”
To gain certification, participants in the Master Gardener program must complete 35 hours of service in the community. This often includes latching onto a community garden and helping to educate community gardeners as they work their plots.
As part of her Master Gardener certification, bronze master gardener Sherry Warner chose to oversee the Foundation for Youth community garden, which resides on the right-hand side of the building.
Now in her fourth year at the garden, Warner helps the children plan the garden.
“The kids decide what they want, and they plant it,” she said. “They weed it, they mulch around it, and they harvest it.”
During her walkabouts, scheduled through late September, Medic sees the gardens of all sizes and formats.
The Eastside Community Center garden faltered over the course of its 10 years in existence — sometimes up, sometimes down — in regard to participation and produce yields.
Freelance photographer Joey Leo Moody this year volunteered in the garden and created raised beds, gutter plots that will run along the fence and a pizza garden planned by Community Center kids.
“I just saw that there was a lot of potential for the space that they weren’t using,” Moody said. “This area seems kind of detached from itself.”
Since he started putting in the 14 raised beds, Moody has had at least six neighbors offer their materials or time.
I think it’s really about people coming together and working together,” Eastside Community Center director Priscilla Scalf said.
“The really rich community gardens are the ones where people are solving problems together,” Medic said. “It’s not just ‘I have my plot and you have your plot.’”
At the Bevers plot, the peas might be the family’s biggest thrill.
A lush but gentle green in color, the pea plant tendrils shoot up and snake around the metal border fence surrounding them.
Peas didn’t work in Minniefield’s past gardens; they would burn up in hot weather. She holds out hope for these peas.
“I’ve never had plants that looked this good before,” she said.
As the season progresses, the family weeds and harvests.
Radishes, which sixth-grader Clendenen tried, have an aftertaste he didn’t care for, or maybe the texture wasn’t for him. Still, he said, even if he doesn’t like certain vegetables, and although the work is difficult, he enjoys the time outside.
“It’s back-breaking work to take care of the garden,” Clendenen said. “But I like pulling out plants and I really like trying new things.”
In the span of a month, Bevers had highs and lows in her garden plots.
The green onions floundered and the lettuce yield, so far, was less than expected, but the carrots come up and the cilantro and dill growing in the used tires were healthy and verdant. From beneath their coat of straw, the potato plants peeked from the earth.
“It’s hard to explain,” Bevers said. “If I’m working on the green onions, I’m trying so hard to get them growing — then I can turn around see the peas that are just massive. In the same breath I can be disappointed but extremely ecstatic, too.”