Cummins proposing community garden for environmental project

Cummins Inc. is asking the city for a zoning change near the downtown Columbus Engine Plant to create a community garden on a small triangular parcel of its property.

The .28-acre acre parcel just north of the plant next to a former railroad right of way is proposed to become a Cummins Environmental Challenge project. That project would become an entry in a company-wide competition to produce a project with a positive environmental impact, the Cummins application states. The land is at the southwest corner of Seventh and Maple streets in downtown Columbus.

The garden will consist of four 75-square-foot raised garden beds and a composting unit, with the garden being used as an educational tool for Columbus Signature Academy — Lincoln Campus students and neighbors in the surrounding area. The area for the garden is somewhat away from the engine plant but easily accessible by foot by Cummins volunteers, students and the neighborhood residents.

Mark Slaton, the Cummins environmen- tal manager organizing the effort, said that if the rezoning is approved Cummins workers will volunteer to build the raised beds through the company’s Every Employee Every Community program.

The goal will be to not only grow produce but also to teach successful gardening methods to the students and neighbors, Slaton said.

The company will share in the cost of building the raised beds, although volunteers plan to repurpose lumber from the wooden skids and pallets that are used in shipping parts as part of the frames for the raised garden bed, Slaton said.

If the project is approved, organizers are considering planting tomatoes, potatoes, peppers, onions and carrots, although the exact crop selection hasn’t been selected, Slaton said. Cummins employees are consulting with CSA-Lincoln teachers about what will be planted.

Also undecided is how the crop may be distributed after its grown, Slaton said. Some of the produce could go to neighborhood residents, particularly if they participate in helping with the growing process, Slaton said.

Cummins also is considering doing a cooking project with CSA-Lincoln students in the late summer and early fall so students can complete the learning cycle of planting, growing, cultivating, harvesting, cooking and then eating, he said.

In addition to the raised bed garden, the volunteers also plan to incorporate a worm composting unit — a process known as vermicomposting — taking up about 96-square-feet on the parcel, the application states.

Cummins’ plan is to make the garden and composting projects part of the plant’s participation in the Indiana Department of Environmental Management Environmental Stewardship Program, Slaton wrote in the application.

The compost aspect will be used to vermicompost about 25 pounds of salad bar items per week — lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers and beans, that would otherwise be discarded as waste, the application states. The volunteers will build a small composting bin with a plastic tarp liner and a cover.

A similar project was piloted last year at the plant and it generated no heat or odors and the worms were easy to care for, the application states.

The harvest of the compost would be used to enrich the soil used in the garden area, Slaton said.

If the city approves the project, Cummins hopes for the garden and compost bin to be at least a two-year project. Slaton said the volunteers might be able to expand to more raised garden beds in the second year if the first-year-effort is successful.

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What: Columbus Board of Zoning Appeals

When: 6:30 p.m. Tuesday

Where: Columbus City Hall council chambers, 123 Washington St.