By JAMIE PARSELL
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
Mary Parham, 50, and her husband Tommy, 56, have turned into farmers. And she bets her father, a gardener, is sitting on a cloud in heaven laughing at her new hobby. Mary said she was allergic to gardens as a child. Her father had a massive garden and she pulled weeds, watered the vegetables and picked the harvest. So when she became an adult, she brought her fruits and vegetables from the store.
But two years ago, the Parhams rented a space in the Four Seasons Community Garden in Tazewell.
“I partner with a friend, Bonnie Sisk, and the two of us share the duties. It is pretty fun that way,” she said. “My husband plants too and we have a friendly competition.”
The first year, Parham and Sisk planted tomatoes and way too much squash and zucchini, hot peppers, beets and beans. Parham also tries to plant something new, or original.
“The first year I planted kohlrabi. That was a success, but kind of weird. It looks like a green softball with a weird hair-do,” she said.
She laughed and said the strange vegetable was quite tasty, despite its appearance. The second year, she planted rhubarb, a perennial, which will come back every year.
Bill Bunch, 64, a member of the Tazewell County Master Gardeners and manager of the Tazewell Farmer’s Market, submitted the rhubarb in one of the produce contests at the fair.
“I won a ribbon ... I was so proud,” Parham said.
Bunch and other gardeners in the Tazewell area are gearing up for the planting season. He is currently renting out spaces for the community garden, which is located at the Four Seasons Community Center.
“This will be our third season,” he said.
Fellow master gardener Harold Williamson came up with the idea for a community garden and the center offered to sponsor the project. Many sell extra produce at the Tazewell Farmer’s Market. Extra surplus is often donated to the local food pantry.
“Last year, we had 17 come out,” Bunch said. “We had several Boy Scouts and the local Head Start kids come out in the spring and plant some lettuce and onions.”
Many adults, like Parham, don’t have the right conditions for a garden at home. Anita McGraw, 64, also of Tazewell, enjoys the social aspect of a community garden. She compared the garden to a big quilt, with each gardener having their own patch.
“It isn’t just your garden. Sometimes you are alone and then sometimes with other people. They offer you extra produce, tips and talk to you,” she said.
McGraw, a historical gardener at the Crab Orchard Museum, participated last year.
“I would usually go in the late afternoon with my dog. We would walk and she would sit under the tree ...,” she said.
She grew different types of herbs, including stevia, as well as tomatoes, scarlet runner beans, squashes and nasturtiums, an edible flower that is great in salads. McGraw plans to rent again.
This week, Bunch and others will prepare the beds.
“We will till it with a farm tractor and provide gardeners with a small tiller to use. The bed is prepared, but each person maintains their own section,” he said.
Bunch said only organic fertilizers are used in the gardens. They ask renters to also use organic products.
So what will people plant?
He said everybody plants tomatoes, but then personal preference takes over.
“Some will plant whole gardens full of sweet potatoes and green beans,” he said.
He believes more people are aware of the food industry and want to eat local produce.
“They want to grow healthy food for themselves,” he said.
A retired U. S. Post Office employee, Bunch’s garden is full of asparagus, garlic, potatoes, beets, lettuce, onions, sweet corn, green beans and more. And just like Parham, he was forced into the garden as a child.
“But as I grew up, I realized they had taught me something valuable,” he said.
Lessons he hopes to share with the community. For more information, call 276-971-0964 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. ꆱ