Monday, May 18, 2015


Well no one sang the National Anthem and no one threw out a first pitch. but I would have to say that opening day at the Williams Street Community Garden was a grand slam!!  Things really started Friday afternoon when Valerie Bloss, Volunteer Director at WCI, came by to drop off over 150 seedlings of veggies, fruits and flowers. I met her along with facility and EVS staff, all of whom could not be more eager to help. We placed the seedlings in the garden, gave them all a nice drink and told them they would be in their new homes in the morning!!

I was very worried about the weather for Saturday (how about that...I'm already thinking like a farmer! LOL!!). At first it was an 80% chance of rain but we got lucky and the day dawned clear and cool, but that changed mighty fast and by 8 am it was sunny and things were starting to heat up. Tara and I were at the garden to meet those who had signed up for plots. Tara did an excellent job assigning plots, keeping track of keys and staying in touch with all of our gardeners.  She also got a lot of brownie points because she brought me some strawberries!  I mean I need to keep my strength up!!!

Most of the people who signed up for their plots came at some point between 8 in the morning and by noon we were just about done. But let me tell you about those 4 amazing hours.

We had people from all walks of life and all ages too! We had 7 children who were enchanted with the tea cup and sugar bowl children's garden. We let them pick whatever they wanted to grow. So far the children have planted peas and carrots and a single flower!  And then two wondrous things happened.   Nidhi Jain, who is married to one of our local physicians, has joined our team and with her 9-year-old will be overseeing the children's garden. Nidhi already has made a couple of suggestions for the children's garden that we are going to incorporate in the next week that will enable the children to plant even more of a variety of seeds.

And our next wondrous occurrence came in the form of Sue Rudd, who works at AES. Sue has a plot that will have contributions to the food bank. But even better...turns out AES has a very finely developed social conscious. And they are always looking for ways to help the community. And so Sue's role among other things is to seek out these opportunities to help. So Sue has via AES offered to provide funding and manpower towards our next community garden!!! WOWZERS!!!! I just knew planting those 4 leaf clovers would come in handy!!

What a fantastic community with caring people here in Cumberland!!!

We also were lucky enough to have Sherry Frick here today and 4 Master Gardeners. They spent their time helping to guide the picking of plants and the actual planting of them in each individual's garden. The Master Gardeners will be back periodically on Saturdays and during the week to give help and suggestions.

And I made friends with a very inquisitive and beautiful gray cat. The cat was very curious about what was happening. But he only stayed long enough to say hi. And then went on home.

And home is where I am headed too. I may not dream of sugar plums when I go to sleep tonight, but I will be dreaming of the Roma tomatoes and purple peas we planted!!

Come by and see the garden!! You will be very impressed!!  Jo

Friday, May 15, 2015

County United Way Day of Caring and Sharing

Soooo we have been busy getting the garden ready for our Grand Opening, which is set for Saturday May 16, 2015. Leading up to that, we needed to make sure everything would be ready. So fortunately when Mary Beth Pirolozzi heard about our garden, she asked if we wanted to have volunteers help us on the Day of Sharing and Caring and we said YES YES YES!! We were very fortunate to have 7 people from the Department of Social Services (DSS) choose our garden as their project.

In the meantime, Tara was very busy getting all of the garden plots assigned. Nancy and her team spent a few days in the lobby at DSS doing health screenings and telling everyone about our garden. Also Kathy arranged for an interview and article to appear in the Cumberland Times-News. We also called churches surrounding the gardens location and the principal at the nearby high school to help get the word out. So we were lucky and we have all of the plots taken. 

What we decided to do was reserve one of the plots for a strawberry patch. The fruit would be available to anyone who had a plot. Now let me tell you a little bit about strawberries...I may not grow them but OMG I love to eat them. They are my favorite!! So we planted 3 different kinds of strawberries, one of which is to grow strawberries the size of nectarines. Tara bought those just for me!! Won't that be wonderful!! I may have to eat all of those just to make sure they are okay. HAHA!! Just kidding! Now we also reserved 2 other plots as well and our internal team is going to oversee them. The produce from those may go to the food bank or if someone else needs assistance we will have some produce to offer. But 23 other plots have been taken by 23 other people all interested and excited about growing their own produce.  

And in the week prior to Day of Caring and Sharing we got some other great help. One of our retired physicians saw our article in the paper and offered to give us flowers on the Day of Caring and Sharing and tomato seedlings on our opening day! And Connie Otto had applied for a grant and got word that we received the grant of seed packets from "Hermann's Garden,” a program that supports community, school and jail gardens. So we are going to be in great shape come opening day with all of this and the seedlings from WCI as well!!

So the Day of Caring and Sharing came beautifully clear and hot! Perfect. Everything we needed was there, the DSS people, Terry and the grounds crew, Carey and Jennifer from Community Health and Wellness and our internal team bolstered by two other members, Connie's nephew Josh from Virginia and Hermann Engelhardt, who occasionally is part of our team. And we went to work. I of course spent my time singing and talking to the baby strawberry plants as I planted them to ensure that they were going to be happy in their new setting!!

Everybody went to work and, honestly before you knew it, the 4 trees were planted, the 4 fruit bushes and strawberries were planted, the 200+ flowers were planted. Connie even brought lettuce, Swiss chard and broccoli to get started in one of the team plots. My husband came by and took some videos and pictures so we can commemorate the day. 

Now we have 2 things left for us to do this week before the Grand Opening. First, we need to add 2 feet of height to the fence in order to keep those hungry deer out. I don't want them getting to my tasty strawberries as well as the other produce. Terry will add extensions to the posts and wire in order to reach 8 feet. And for the first couple of weeks, we will have yellow ribbons tied to the wire so the deer can see there is something there. I don't want any of the deer to get hurt. I love animals, children, strawberries....well I guess there isn't a lot I don't love...except stink bugs!  

And the last thing we have to do is finish the children's garden area. Tara and I are going to Lowe's to get a sandbox so the real little ones will have something to do that will be fun. And we had seen some amazing things with cut up and painted tires. We wanted to do a daisy shape and plant produce inside of that but it just did not work out. So many of the tires have steel belts in them and when cut they will leave a sharp edge. Terry is looking to see if next time we can get the really big tires that are used for farm equipment that don't have the steel belt. So instead we found Teacup gardens that are made with two tires on top of one another. Terry and his team bolted the tires together like the picture we found instructed. The early part of the week they power washed them and gave them a white base coat. Then Tara and I will paint them so they are ready to go on Saturday. We have baby carrots, cherry tomatoes etc. for those. And one of Terry's team had a great idea...they are going to make a single handle for one to be a tea cup but the other will have 2 handles and be a sugar bowl!!! How cute!! Then we will be done done and all ready for Saturday's Grand Opening.

We are also using our daily huddle to recruit for volunteers so we have at least one person assigned to visit the garden each evening to ensure everything is watered, the water is turned off and the gate is locked.

Well that's all for now. I'll be back to tell you all about the Grand Opening on Saturday May 16!


Thursday, May 14, 2015

Mighty Oaks From Little Acorns Grow

Welcome to the new blog about the Williams Street Community Garden! So glad you stopped by!  This first blog is all about our little start up garden's wonderful behind the scene story.

Early last year WMHS CEO, Barry Ronan had a conversation with one of our nurses who was retiring in a few months. Turns out that Connie Otto is passionate about gardening and all that goes with it!! She was working with a number of groups to start a Community Garden. With all that WMHS is doing to improve the health of our Community this resonated with Barry. So not long after, I found myself saying yes to investigating how WMHS could be a catalyst for a Community Garden. In addition, our Board of Directors embraced this too by including the successful start-up of a Community a Garden as one of their goals. Trust me when I tell you that is a BIG DEAL! Making sure that people can obtain fresh fruits and vegetables will, over time improve their health.  And if you are healthy you have the foundation for success in school, work, life and Community!! And really we are the HEALTH System so it is a perfect fit for us.

So I went about forming an internal team to get this goal on the road. Now let me digress here for a moment to let you know that when it comes to gardening....I'm more or less a virgin!! I grew up in Baltimore City and well that's my story! The plants that grow in our house have to thank my husband David for their continued life, I'm sorry to say. So I knew I was going to need some serious help!!  And when it comes to food where else to turn but to our Dietary Department!! Now I knew somewhere in the back of my mind that our own Tara Hartsock who is our Patient Care Manager in Food and Nutrition has a farm. And when I approached Department Director John Wilson, he said he thought Tara would love to help and he was right. She was delighted to be asked!!

 In August off Tara went to attend the American Garden Community Association Conference and came back bristling with great ideas. Our first step, she told me was to figure out a location. So Tara and I spent a number of hours driving around South Cumberland trying to find a suitable location for the garden. We wanted to start in South Cumberland in a location not too far from the hospital.  Now some places we saw looked good but were too small so we would've had to do more then one location to really make an impact. And some places were too big, at least from my perspective. Were we every going to find a spot that was just right?  (Is this starting to sound like Goldilocks and the 3 Bears?). I was telling this to Barry after weeks of searching and he came up with the perfect solution. Why not use our own property on Williams Street right across from the former Imaging Center?  Can we all say DUH!!! It is just PERFECT!!

Okay so we now had our location. Next Tara and I went about recruiting the rest of our Team. We needed both internal partners and really wanted Community partners as well. Because while this was our first garden, I could already tell we were going to want to expand as time went on. So the next team member we wanted was Terry Beck, Manager of Facilities. We spoke to his Department Director, Peter Barnett and got the thumbs up!  Terry, too, is no novice to gardening. He and the grounds crew provided the backbone for our Community Garden. They took on the yeomen service and made sure that all the different items we acquired to make our garden a go was done perfectly. We also added Nancy Forlifer, who as Director of Community Health and Wellness knew all the ins and out of connecting us with the people we most wanted to reach. We also asked Connie Otto to join and she agreed. And we asked Kathy Rogers, Director of Community Relations to give us a hand in getting the word out. So our internal team was assembled.

Now it was time to reach out to Community partners. One of the first people I spoke to was Sherry Frick at the University of Maryland Extension. OMG is she knowledgeable!! We were lucky enough to have her agree to join our internal team and has guided us with layouts and timing and all sorts of things along those lines. In addition she provided us with thornless blackberry, raspberry and strawberry plants for the garden. Even better she also has provided us with Master Gardeners who agreed to conduct Grow to Eat lectures at the hospital, one in April, May and June. Plus the master gardeners will be available available at our grand opening and other times throughout the growing season.  The next person I reached out to was  Chad Stinnett, General Manager of our local Lowes. My boss, Nancy Adams, our COO/CNE has a good relationship with Chad. So after contact was made..out I went to speak with Chad. And Chad has been terrific. They supplied us with fencing, wood for the 25-5X10 garden plots, ground cover for the entire area we were going to garden and once we hit up against the top of their permitted donation we were allowed to purchase whatever else we needed at the stores cost!! This included all the tools we needed, fertilizer, compost, tomato stakes, and flowers to both beautify and deter any little animals along with apple trees and 2 pair trees and let me tell needs to be very careful to get different types so we can get pollination!! Or else no fruit!! Man, the things I am learning!! Next was a visit to Eby's who very generously donated growing medium and mulch and there was tons of each needed!  And Dick Graham at WCI was wonderful too offering not only seedlings for veggies for all the plots but also dropped off a number of flowers for the United Way Day of Caring and Sharing. The next partner I went to see was Jeff Rhodes, the City Administrator, because even I knew that without water this garden was going nowhere. Fortunately the City was kind enough to supply us with 3 irrigation taps and best of all free water for the growing season. Everyone of our Community Partners realized that a Garden such as we were dreaming of could only bring good to the people who live here. We are truly blessed!
Well this is enough for now.  Next Blog will be all about our Day of Caring and Sharing.

Jo Wilson
Western Maryland Health System
Vice President, Operations