Jefferson Street Oasis Garden provides fresh produce, more to residents of southwest Springfield

The Jefferson Street Oasis Garden lives up to its name by providing a profusion of greenery in the middle of long-developed residential and commercial areas on the southwest side of Springfield.

Located at 1100 W. Jefferson St., on the former campus of St. Mary Catholic Church and School, the garden began in 2010 with just a little more than one acre and eight gardeners.

Today, cultivation extends over 4.85 acres, including 80 garden plots, an area for chickens, a pollinator garden, and more.

Terry Fredrich, one of the garden’s founders, says the impact of the Jefferson Street Oasis extends farther than people realize. Several plots have more than one person working them, so more than 80 people are harvesting produce, and each person is taking fresh vegetables home to their families.

With some parts of Springfield being “food deserts,” where residents don’t have convenient access to nutritious food, this service offers a valuable alternative.

“We have a lot of people getting produce out of here,” Fredrich says. “This garden is having a big impact on the nutrition of the people of Springfield. Maybe just as important is the social impact for the gardeners and the health benefits that come from being outside.”

Anyone interested in learning about the garden can tour the site and sample its harvest during the annual Grilling in the Garden and Garden Tour from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday, July 31. Volunteers will grill freshly picked vegetables to be used for pizza toppings. The event is free.

People sign up for the plots on a first-come, first-served basis. Signs announcing the availability of plots are put on the fence beginning in February, but Fredrich believes the garden itself, with row after row of vegetables, fruits, and flowers, is its own best advertisement.

“If you build it, and make it look good, they will come,” he says.

Originally, the Archdiocese of Cincinnati, which owned the property, allowed the garden’s organizers to use it and eventually donated the 4.85 acres outright.

The north part of the former church/school campus includes buildings and additional land, which are now used by the Children’s Rescue Center, a Christian ministry serving children and families in need.

Fredrich and a team of several volunteers have worked to make additions and improvements to the garden area. Each year, the participating gardeners fill out a survey about what’s working and what’s needed.

The No. 1 request had been to have a better water source, because for years, people had to fill buckets or watering cans from a couple of large tanks and carry the water to their plots. This spring, the water line was extended and three hydrants added that allow each gardener to reach their plot with a hose.

This summer, with support from the Clark County Combined Health District, a special area for children has been added in the southeast corner of the site. The spot includes a shed to hold equipment and 20 raised beds.

Children have to have an adult who agrees to help them with their plot, and all the beds have been taken.

“I have to figure out where I’m going to go with more beds next year,” Fredrich says.

Another recent addition to the garden’s infrastructure is a type of greenhouse known as a poly house, named for the polyethylene material used for the roof. The transparent material lets in heat and light, and traps enough heat that crops can be grown, or at least started, year-round.

The poly house contains two raised beds in wooden frames with hoops arching over the soil. The hoops can hold frost blankets that protect the plants on especially cold nights.

Fredrich says that in the winter they will plant greens, such as spinach, lettuce, and broccoli, which are more suited to cold weather. In the summer, the poly house has crops including sweet potatoes, onions, carrots, and eggplant.

“It has worked wonderfully,” Fredrich says. “The poly house roof lets in just the right wavelengths to grow these plants. We were able to harvest five or six times for lettuce and spinach.”

In its third year, the garden began raising chickens with five or six hens, Fredrich says. Now, 150 chickens make their home in a western section of the garden.

The school’s former swing set has been converted into a chicken shelter, with a waterproof tarp over half the structure to provide shelter in the rain. The other half has a mesh cover suitable for a sunny day. Individuals raised money to build a small barn for use as a henhouse.

Cheryl Fitzgerald, who does business as City Chick, owns and cares for the chickens, with a few helpers.

The garden supplies the land, buildings, and electricity, while Fitzgerald buys the hens and the feed. Jefferson Street Oasis agrees to buy 15 dozen eggs each week for distribution to the gardeners. Fitzgerald sells the rest to customers in the community.

Fredrich says future additions being planned include beehives and a shelter house with solar panels. The garden also offers various classes in food preparation, canning, nutrition, and related topics, often in cooperation with OSU Extension Service.

In addition to the Health District, the garden has been supported by the Community Health Foundation, the Wilson Sheehan Foundation, the Springfield Foundation, and many individuals.

Anyone interested in donating or volunteering can contact Fredrich at (937) 215-9400 or [email protected] or by following the garden’s Facebook page.
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Read more articles by Steve Schlather.