Fairfield County Community Gardens Story

Many times we ask ourselves, “I wish I can do more for the hungry in our own community.”  Thanks to Bill Steinman’s vision, that question has been answered with Fairfield County Community Gardens.  It is a gift of exercise and elbow grease that is open to all citizens to help grow vegetables for their own families as well as to stock the fourteen Food Pantries all over our county.

On Mar. 1, 2009, at the suggestion of Melissa Hoover and Marilyn Walker, Bill signed up for a 4 week session on creating “Community Gardens” presented by the Franklin Park Conservatory; and the rest is history. Today, there are 3 garden locations: one in Pickerington, eight miles NW of Baltimore on St. Rt. 256, one at the Smeck Historical Farm, in Baltimore, and the MRDD Lancaster garden behind OU-L.

The MRDD Community Garden is 90’x 90’and is made up of a patchwork of garden plots 16’x 16’ that are cultivated, planted and harvested by either individual families or a church or civic group.  The intent is to harvest the crops and donate 20-100% of the bounty to the Fairfield County food pantries.  It has taken off so fast that the need for workers has been outpaced by the vegetables.

Along the way, Robin Mallory and Joe Hydock (Smeck Historical Garden), Baltimore, Don Ross (Recreation Coordinator, Pickerington Parks and Rec) and Paul Lane (Pickerington Community Gardens Coordinator) have been a much needed support group. Bill says, “These garden projects could not have been done without them!”

Bill can be found most days in the hot field with his trademark hoe, weeding and tending to the plots at the MRDD site.  He greets and coordinates the interactions of the family and civic groups as they pull up in their cars to weed and harvest early crops such as radishes.  One example of a particular 16ft x 16ft plot is “Deer Babes” represented by Vonda Speakman of Lancaster.  Recently Vonda and her 2 grand-daughters (Anna 11 and Grace 9) from Hilliard, picked radishes in the hot sun at the MRDD garden.  This is truly a family commitment and teaches ‘giving back’ to the community at an early age.

The Smeck Historical Garden in Baltimore is coordinated by Robin Mallory of Lancaster. Ms. Mallory works for Landis Farms, Inc. of Baltimore, OH who are members of the Ohio Farm Bureau. It is the largest of the three gardens and is setup in a row layout instead of the plot style at MRDD. There is ½ acre of corn, as well as multiple other vegetable crops such as peanuts, assorted peppers, broccoli, tomatoes of all varieties, beans, carrots, melons, cabbage, zucchini and many other vegetable crops.

At the Smeck Farm location in Baltimore, the seeds or plants were either donated by various vendors or provided at a reduced cost.  Hoffman’s Flower Shop (Baltimore) Slater’s Hardware (Lancaster), Lowe’s (Lancaster), Martin Seed Co. (Kirkersville/Hebron), Livingston Seed Company (Columbus), and Wilson’s Garden Center (Newark) and others, have played a large role in supplying seed and plants.

Also, John Torres, Organization Director, Fairfield, Hocking, Pickaway and Ross Counties Ohio Farm Bureau Federation, has provided valuable advice on farming techniques to help gain better crop output.  Connie Smith, Program Assistant for Fairfield County  OSU Extension, advised on the plant layouts to help avoid cross pollination of the various species of plants.

The first Pickerington plot was 15’x 40’ and is being coordinated by Patrick Bowen with help of his family and friends. The Ivory family of Pickerington also has a separate plot which is approximately the same size as the Bowen garden plot. The Pickerington garden location has now grown to an additional 4 more plots each sized 40’x 80’ to provide space for planting the new donations that Bill has received from community vendors.    

The real problem/challenge now, is the need for:

  • volunteers to help with the harvest, so that the food will not go to waste in the fields
  • a tiller for cultivation and weeding
  • a pickup truck to help transport the vegetables to the 14 pantries and haul materials to and from the gardens

If you would like to pitch in to help weed, harvest or just donate to these hard working citizens, please contact Bill Steinman 740-503-5886  or Robin Mallory 740-475-7198 of Fairfield County Community Gardens.

“You” can make a difference for the 14 Fairfield County food pantries.