By Lindsey Ziliak
Tribune staff writer
— Four months ago, high school senior Joey Shook didn’t know that you could grow peppers in Indiana or that a tomato plant produces more than one tomato.
This week, though, he walked through the community garden at Howard County’s south branch library and picked some peppers, tomatoes and cucumbers that he had a hand in growing.
He marveled at the fruits of his labor.
“I never thought this would happen, especially when I was shoveling dirt in buckets and carrying them down to the garden,” he said.
Shook is among a group of students from The Crossing Education Center who have worked in the garden as part of their classroom curriculum.
The community garden was dreamed up earlier this year by library officials and staff at The Crossing. The library used two acres of open space it had at its south branch location to start 40 garden plots.
Fifteen of those plots were rented out to community members who needed space to garden, and the other 25 plots are used by students at The Crossing.
The students plant, maintain and harvest their 25 plots. The ultimate goal is to sell the harvest at the farmer’s market to teach the students about business, too.
“We want to teach them real-life skills, even to the point of creating business plans,” said James Jakus, a teacher at The Crossing.
For right now, much of the harvest is donated to people in the community.
Some is used in other lessons at the school. A group of volunteers recently taught the students how to can vegetables.
“We already sold a jar of pickles,” Jakus said.
The experience has been eye-opening for Shook, who knew nothing about gardens before he started.
“I think I’ve learned more out here in the garden than I have in class,” he said.
Shook spends at least 12 hours a week gardening. It’s something he’s come to enjoy.
“It’s fun,” he said. “And it keeps me out of trouble at least.”
Shook said one of his best friends was recently removed from his home and forced to move to Chicago. It’s been rough for Shook. He said he misses his friend a lot.
Gardening kept him busy, though, and kept his mind off of how hard it’s been, he said.
“I would have done some bad things if I didn’t have this,” he said. “I’m lucky to be out here.”
Carol Grabow considers herself pretty lucky, too.
Grabow has been a gardener her entire life, but when she recently moved into a condominium a block behind the south branch library, she was forced to give it up. There was no room at her new place for a garden.
So when the library started renting out plots, she was quick to snatch one up.
This week, she was out there picking green beans. It would likely be her last green beans of the year, she said.
But she has seven other vegetables, including eggplants, sweet corn and beets.
“It’s a pleasure being out here,” she said. “It’s just fun.”
Digital Librarian Justin Kingery said people come into the library just about every day asking about the garden. Since they’re out of plots for the year, they’ve had to turn interested gardeners away.
He’s hoping to expand the garden next year, though.
Grabow said she’s already reserving her plot for next year. It’s a sanctuary for her and her dog, Pixie.
“We’re here at least every day,” she said. “We just walk around and look at the gardens.”
• Lindsey Ziliak, Tribune education reporter, may be reached at 765-454-8585 or firstname.lastname@example.org.