A place in the sun: Residents plant Pewabic Street Community Garden

HOUGHTON – Central Houghton’s hillsides are shady for much of the summer, but there’s plenty of exposure to the sun on the large vacant space west of the Houghton County Courthouse, where the old Houghton High School once stood. That made it the perfect spot when the Pewabic Street Community Garden was founded eight years ago, and it’s led to bounteous harvests ever since.

“It’s an excellent spot,” said garden co-director Sarah Cheney. “It can be a little windy, but it has the full sun and the raised beds are a beautiful way to garden.”

The garden, which actually sits on the long unused Pewabic Street right-of-way that bisects the vacant lot, has 16 10- by 20-foot raised-bed plots and six 4- by 10-foot plots, all of which are already under cultivation or reserved for this summer by individuals, families and school groups. A waiting list has already begun for next summer.

Everything at the garden is grown organically, said garden co-director Elena Busova, and “we’ve been able to grow almost everything.”

“We plant a lot of tomatoes, beets, peppers, onions and garlic,” she added. “We tell the gardeners, ‘Plant what you’d like to eat.'”

Sarah Cheney, Busova’s co-director and a master gardener, said families planning on moving to Houghton have been contacting the garden even before buying their homes.

“It’s on the list of things to do when you’re moving,” Cheney said.

Former Houghton City Manager Scott MacInnes, who Busova credited with helping the garden establish itself, said that appeal is one reason the city has been behind the garden from the start.

“I think it helps create a sense of place and attracts people to the community,” said MacInnes, currently a consultant with the city.

Long ago, he said, the city provided a water line to the garden, and it gives some money every year to help with the water bill. MacInnes said the city’s master plan suggests someday expanding the project and possibly buying adjacent land to establish a farmer’s market or greenhouse.

That could be a race against a slowly ticking clock however. The county-owned property on either side of the Pewabic Street right-of-way is for sale, and the right-of-way would most likely go to the buyer. MacInnes said he didn’t know where the garden could move to in that case.

While each of the garden’s plots is cultivated individually – gardeners pay $30 per season to use one of the big plots – gardeners get together to work on fencing, the paths between plots and other communal projects. This year, they’re experimenting with hoop houses, small do-it-yourself greenhouses designed to increase heat.

There’s also a communal garlic plot and a tool shed with shared tools.

“We share a lot. Gardeners are extremely friendly people and like to share,” Cheney said. “The benefit of being together in a space is that you can learn from each other and be more successful.”

One of the small plots is the domain of Margo Hall’s fourth-grade Houghton Elementary School class. Busova said Hall’s class will plant their garden before the end of the school year, then get back together next year for a harvest lunch.

“We send them invitations, and volunteers cook a special lunch with all they’ve produced,” Busova said.

Cheney said some gardeners also donate excess produce to the Omega House, so residents approaching the end of life can enjoy fresh local produce.

Busova said Pewabic Streets’s gardeners will be holding a plant sale to support the garden from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. June 7, in the Trinity Episcopal Church parking lot, just below the garden. Busova said the sale will include vegetable seedlings as well as decorative plants.

For more information on the garden, or to get on the waiting list for a plot, call Cheney at 483-3754 or email sacheney@chartermi.net.