Springfield Twp.: Telling people how to grow food is one thing. Showing them is another.
Springfield Township is taking the latter approach.
The township recently installed a demonstration garden in Springfield Lake Park that’s designed to teach residents how to grow their own fruits, vegetables and herbs. The idea was to show it’s possible to grow a good amount of food without a lot of land or expense, said Jerry Salisbury, chairman of the township’s advisory Parks Board.
The concept grew from a suggestion by fellow board member Norma Schweda, who proposed growing food at an existing community garden to donate to community members. Salisbury thought it was a great idea, but he wanted to take the concept a step further. Instead of just growing food to give away, he reasoned, why not help people become self-sufficient in the process?
What he envisioned was a gardening version of the teach-a-man-to-fish proverb.
“Springfield’s not a wealthy community,” said Salisbury, who is also a Summit County master gardener volunteer. He thought its residents might be inspired to plant gardens if they could see “you don’t need 10 acres to grow food.”
The garden fills a 24- by 27-foot space adjacent to the park’s new restroom building, not far from a lakeside gazebo that regularly draws crowds for concerts, weddings and other events. Salisbury said he wanted a highly visible spot so more people would visit and learn.
About 20 people stopped by during the first community concert this month, he said. “At least a half-dozen said, ‘Huh, I’m gonna try this.’ ”
The garden displays a variety of budget-friendly gardening options. Herbs sprout from PVC pipes Salisbury found for free on Craigslist, which were cut into varying lengths, set on end and filled with soil.
Beans will eventually grow up a tepee-shape trellis from what Salisbury jokingly called a “bean bag,” a dog food bag made from reinforced plastic that’s used as a container.
Similar plastic bags were hung from wood and wire fencing to serve as colorful planters, their top edges folded under, grommets attached to accommodate zip ties and drainage holes cut in the bottom. The plants in the bags, along with raspberries planted in the ground, will eventually clamber over the fence structure to create a lush living fence.
The bulk of the garden consists of four raised beds built from 2-by-6 boards treated with alkaline copper quaternary, an arsenic-free preservative method commonly called ACQ. The boards are attached to corner supports made from 4-by-4s using hot-dipped galvanized lag screws, a type of hardware that resists ACQ lumber’s highly corrosive nature, Salisbury explained.
Because the beds are filled with rich soil and are protected from people walking on them and compacting the soil, he was able to space plants closer together than with traditional in-ground gardens. That means more yield from less space.
It all sits on a base made from 10 tons of crushed limestone “moved by Boy Scouts and sore, tired old men,” Salisbury said with a smile.
The garden employs organic growing methods, including the use of alpaca manure as fertilizer. The manure doesn’t carry pathogens harmful to humans, Salisbury’s wife, fellow master gardener Pat Rossi, explained.
The garden’s growing methods should be of interest to experienced gardeners, too. Salisbury plans to demonstrate a couple of tomato-staking strategies — an overhead support made from conduit with strings extending down from it, as well as a method called a Florida weave, which involves stretching strings between stakes.
Utility wasn’t the only goal for the garden, however. Salisbury said the plot also needed to be visually pleasing, because “if it’s not at least a little attractive, someone’s gonna say, ‘Not in my backyard.’ ”
Interior designer Marcia Wolff, a friend of Salisbury’s and a champion of sustainability, donated her services to design the garden with both visual appeal and environmentalism in mind.
A picket fence borders the side of the garden that faces the gazebo, and marigolds and calendulas were planted in the beds to add color. Salisbury was even planning to create a music-theme living sculpture by installing drums planted with flowers and training a scarlet runner bean up a trombone.
The project turned out to be a community effort, he said.
The Summit County Master Gardeners awarded a $1,000 grant for the project, which has covered almost all of the costs. (Full disclosure: Reporter Mary Beth Breckenridge, a master gardener, served on the grant committee.)
Ricky Kirby, a 17-year-old Springfield resident, took on the garden’s construction as his Eagle Scout project and enlisted fellow members of Troop 282 to provide manual labor. His parents, Ron and Vicki, and his brother, Ryan, 14, showed up regularly for work sessions.
Jan Becker, owner of Becker’s Cottage Garden Herb Farm, donated the plants. The Home Depot on South Arlington Road offered a 20 percent discount on materials.
Trustees and township employees have been supportive, too, and Salisbury insisted no one has tried to claim credit. “It’s just amazing what you can get done when that happens,” he said.
Park board members will maintain the garden, and Salisbury and Rossi will be present during community concerts at the gazebo to talk to people who stop by. The board intends to erect a display with gardening information that visitors can take home.
The food grown in the garden will go to the township’s Boyd Esler Senior Center for use in the meals it serves on weekdays. Any excess will go to the Akron-Canton Regional Foodbank, Salisbury said.
The garden already has one convert: the Kirby family, which didn’t do any significant vegetable gardening until Ricky got involved.
“I love flowers, but [food] gardening, I don’t have the space,” Vicki Kirby said. “But I didn’t know you could do this.”
Now the family is growing tomatoes, peppers, zucchini and strawberries in window boxes on their deck, she said.
To Richard Salisbury, that’s evidence of success.
Mary Beth Breckenridge can be reached at 330-996-3756 or firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also become a fan on Facebook at http://tinyurl.com/mbbreck, follow her on Twitter @MBBreckenridge and read her blog at www.ohio.com/blogs/mary-beth.