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WSU Faculty, Staff, Students Give Back to Community with Fruits of the Earth

PULLMAN, Wash. — “I’m a plant freak!” said Tim Paulitz when asked why he gardens. Paulitz, a USDA scientist and WSU Department of Plant Pathology faculty member, is a member of the board that runs the Pullman Community Garden. The three-acre community garden, founded on the old Koppel Farm estate just off campus, is home to about 110 plots where a wide variety of flowers, fruits and vegetables are grown.

Scientist Tim Paulitz, right, is known for his pesto garden. Click image to download higher-resolution version. Photo courtesy Tim Paulitz.
Scientist Tim Paulitz, right, is known for his pesto garden. Click image to download higher-resolution version. Photo courtesy Tim Paulitz.

“Like a lot of people, we don’t have a lot of suitable gardening space at home, so I grow garlic and basil and some flowers at the Community Garden. It’s a great way to be outdoors and part of a community,” said Paulitz, who makes a much-enjoyed pesto from the produce of his garden.

The community of gardeners is self-supporting, maintaining the farmland with small fees for plot rentals, and with a large contingent of volunteers. On May 12, volunteers and gardeners are hosting the Community Garden’s annual Spring Fair. The fair runs from 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. and features displays from various community groups with ties to the garden, as well as a plant sale. The fair is free and open to the public. The entrance to the fair is at the corner of Derby Street and Professional Mall Boulevard.

WSU graduate student Erik Landy in his Community Garden plot.
WSU graduate student Erik Landy in his Community Garden plot. Photo courtesy Erik Landy.

The garden has long had extensive ties to the Pullman community in general, and to WSU faculty, staff and students in particular. Crop science graduate student Erik Landry, for instance, started working a plot at the garden in spring 2011 as a way to connect with the community.

“I enjoy the fact that it allows creativity and enables like-minded folks to get together and share knowledge about gardening on the Palouse,” Landry said. He preserves what he doesn’t eat fresh and saves the seed of heirloom and underutilized crop varieties from his plot.

Becky Phillips, a video editor with WSU’s Marketing and Creative Services, said that gardening at Koppel Farm “makes me feel real again” after working inside on a computer all day. Phillips began gardening there four years ago and can walk to the garden at night from her apartment to pick from her rows of lettuce, spinach, chard, kale, carrots, beets, onions, scallions, potatoes, tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, basil, squash, pumpkins and Brussels sprouts. She shares her bounty with friends and family.

WSU staff member Becky Phillips and friend. Photo courtesy Becky Phillips.
WSU staff member Becky Phillips and friend. Photo courtesy Becky Phillips.

“It’s relaxing and healthy, and I love the fresh produce,” Phillips said. “There is something gratifying about nurturing a garden and watching it grow and produce. And it cuts about 50-60 percent off my grocery bill.”

Gardeners preparing a plot at the Pullman Community Garden. Photo courtesy Tim Paulitz. Click image to download high-resolution version.
Gardeners preparing a plot at the Pullman Community Garden. Photo courtesy Tim Paulitz. Click image to download high-resolution version.

The Pullman Community Garden has its own ecosystem, she added, with a variety of wildlife—and a variety of people. “There are people from all over the world there, so you get to learn about Chinese chives, for instance. Or amaranth from your Bangladeshi neighbor. It restores a bit of America’s lost sense of community. People help each other out; there is a lot of camaraderie.”

“Ultimately, I wanted to garden for our family but be a part of something bigger than myself,” said Francene Watson, a WSU graduate student in cultural studies and social thought in education. “Gardening means many things to me. I believe that it’s a necessary act, craft, and art form, especially in our day and age. I believe that growing food is cultural knowledge that needs to be passed from one generation to the next. The garden symbolizes a learning space for all—and a place of satisfaction and community.”

Community members gather at the annual Spring Fair. Photo courtesy Tim Paulitz. Cllick image to download higher-resolution version.
Community members gather at the annual Spring Fair. Photo courtesy Tim Paulitz. Click image to download higher-resolution version.

Watson started gardening at Koppel Farm because she wanted to learn more about gardening, which she did not do growing up. Now, she grows kale, chard, broccoli, green beans, potatoes, winter squash, cherry tomatoes, herbs, arugula and different varieties of lettuce. Watson passes on her knowledge not only to her son, but also to students of all ages, from second-graders to adult community members. In addition, she volunteers much of her time for Koppel Farm’s community food bank plots.

Community gardeners maintain four food bank plots, Paulitz said. “We donate produce to the Pullman Senior Center, Alternatives to Violence of the Palouse, the Community Action Center and to the Pullman Food Bank on Nye Street. The students and staffers at the WSU Center for Civic Engagement have helped a lot in keeping those plots productive.”

Paulitz said that plots are still available for the 2012 growing season. A 20-foot-square plot is $50 per year, and gardeners may keep the same plot from year to year. Gardeners interested in establishing a plot should contact the Pullman Community Garden through its website at http://sites.google.com/site/koppelfarm/Home.

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–Brian Clark and Nella Letizia