A little more than a year ago, the Wex's education team and an all-ages group of volunteers were getting their hands dirty in two Columbus locales, alongside artists David Allen Burns and Austin Young of the Los Angeles collaborative Fallen Fruit. With David and Austin's guidance, empty lots in the Weinland Park and South Side neighborhoods were transformed into verdant parks with a variety of fruit-producing trees and bushes, making Columbus part of Fallen Fruit's Endless Orchard project. Now that we're in a new season of growth, I caught up with the project leader for the Wex, Director of Education Shelly Casto, for an update on the parks' progress.
Shelly started by praising the essential technical support provided by members of Ohio State's Master Gardener program throughout the life of the project, from helping to put the plants in the ground to pulling weeds and replacing a few plants that didn't survive year one. She also noted that, like all Fallen Fruit projects, these parks thrive thanks to the support of community volunteers and more help is always welcome. Information on how you can still get involved is listed at the end of each location update.
Weinland Park Berry Patch
A stop by the patch at the southeast corner of 4th Street and 11th Ave. yielded an eyeful of green, with low-growing bushes covered in large leaves and small clumps of ripening stawberries and raspberries. "The blueberries are starting to come out, and people have been hanging out and picking," Shelly said. "In terms of production, that park is really coming along, as we thought it would. OSU Master Gardeners did some reorganization and replanting to ensure optimal conditions."
"Also kudos to Wagenbrenner Development," Shelly said of the company that donated the land for this park. "They have been very supportive and continue to celebrate the effort. They mulched everything this spring."
Master Gardener Susann Moeller has devoted lots of time to the park, according to Shelly. The site was also given some love recently through the Weinland Park Community Civic Association's annual neighborhood beautification project, Roots & Roofs. A Little Free Library has been added to make it all more inviting.
If you'd like to put your green thumb to use at the berry patch, contact Evelyn Van Til of 4th Street Farms at 4thStreetFarms@gmail.com or 614-506-7040.
South Side Fruit Park
Mike Hogan, head of Ohio State's Master Gardener program, has taken an active role in this site, according to Shelly, who also praised the dedication of three other volunteers: Bill Johnson and neighborhood residents Lauren Williams and Mike Sullo. "They've made heroic efforts," she said.
Engraved picnic tables installed in the park are aging nicely, strawberry plants are thriving in decorative planters, and grape vines are working their way up the low wooden fencing around the park. "Those should produce fruit soon," Shelly noted.
"There were some trees that didn’t make it and were replaced but they’re all looking really great now," she added, saying that it'll be at least a year before they start producing fruit. But a trip to take some new photos of the park brought a pleasant surprise: a little apple on one of the trees.
When the park grows into full production, it'll make a beautiful supplement to the All People's Fresh Market, a recent project from South Side service agency Community Development for All People. "It's a really nice building with picnic tables where people can stop and get fresh produce," Shelly explained.
In other developments, Community Housing Network has secured a tax abatement to fulfill its plan for permanent supportive housing for the formerly homeless on the lot adjacent to the park.
Volunteer efforts for South Side Fruit Park are overseen by Bob Leighty, an enthusiastic supporter of the project from the start. Aspiring volunteers can reach out to him through the Parsons Avenue Merchants Association at firstname.lastname@example.org.