While my Ireland traveling companions pooh-poohed our quick stop at Kildare Village’s chic outlet boutiques over cups of Starbucks, I made tracks for Cath Kidston. Minutes later, I emerged victorious with a shopping bag loaded with choice selections. Back on the bus, I shared the best find of all – a “Be a Good Sport Cag in a Bag” — with a few admittedly envious members of the group.
I thought about that last Saturday morning, when my sharp little London Summer Olympics-themed fold-up rain jacket received rave reviews from two young women I met at Shepherd’s Corner in Blacklick.
One of four ecology centers supported by the Dominican Sisters of Peace, Shepherd’s Corner is a 160-acre sanctuary and working farm that sits right in the heart of subdivisions and shopping centers. It was striking to see its lush emerald-green landscape surrounded by suburban sprawl.
The sisters bought the land in the 1960s, but they founded Shepherd’s Corner in 1992 as part of their ministry to promote spirituality in an ecological setting. Since then, this initiative to take care of God’s creation has flourished.
The centerpiece of the farm is a barn that the Dill family built in 1903 on Rohr Road in Lockbourne. In 2006, it was donated by The Pizzuti Companies, moved to Shepherd’s Corner and restored for use as office space and for educational programs on topics such as pottery and gardening. Groups can also reserve space there for meetings. Plenty of volunteer opportunities allow people to reconnect with the land while supporting the sisters’ cause.
The fiber arts are big at Shepherd’s Corner. During the fall and winter, knitters and crocheters gather to make prayer shawls for cancer patients and premature babies. Weaving on two looms also takes place here.
Outdoors, Shepherd’s Corner offers opportunities for meditation and prayer. The paths of a half-mile turf labyrinth spiral around berms planted with wildflowers and perennials, with benches placed at intervals for rest and reflection. Trails wind through open meadows and woods, along hay fields and wetlands.
But the star attraction is the farm that John Wright tends. The regenerative farming practices that he employs at Shepherd’s Corner have invigorated the land, helping it yield impressive harvests.
John reads eighteenth- and nineteenth-century books on farming, integrating what he learns into his work. To create water retention in spaces, John employs swales, an Old English term for ditch. Digging swales creates raised flower and vegetable beds that are adjacent to the water. As the water is caught underground and recharged, the roots of the plants gladly soak it up.
Reading also introduced John to Hugelkultur, a technique practiced centuries ago by German peasant farmers. Extra wood is pushed into a pile and covered with one and a half to two feet of soil so that it can be used to grow a garden. As the wood breaks down, it releases nutrients, and the bed turns into what John describes as a big sponge cake of wonderful soil. Depending on where you place the bed, it can block heavy winds and create microclimates in the garden.
John also practices polyculture, mixing up crops by planting them close together on these beds. The farm is a riot of kale, fava beans, corn, squash, zucchini, tomatoes, peas, radishes, and a winter green called mache. Flowering plants that will bloom at Shepherd’s Corner this season include sunflowers, zinnias, Shasta daisies, chrysanthemums, mustard and vetch, a plant with small flowers that is used to feed farm animals. John also plants crops that other area farmers aren’t growing, such as buckwheat and flax. This stalk of asparagus held by Tabby, one of the Shepherd’s Corner volunteers who liked my jacket, shows how successful these farming practices are.
Lovage, lettuce and other plants thrive in the greenhouse at Shepherd’s Corner.
The farm is also home to honey-producing bees; egg-laying chickens; sheep, whose wool provides a blanket for the Hugelkultur beds; and a protective llama named Fernando.
Shepherd’s Corner is committed to donating 60 to 65 percent of its harvest to feed the hungry in our community. Over the past five years, Shepherd’s Corner has donated 13,900 pounds of produce to local food pantries and soup kitchens. Diane Kozlowski, OP, a Dominican Sister of Peace who is a member of the staff at Shepherd’s Corner, cans tomato sauce and jams made from produce grown on the farm. Vegetables, maple syrup, honey, Sister Diane’s sauces, and other homemade products like soap and lotion are sold at Shepherd’s Corner’s farm stand, held one Saturday a month during the growing season. Sometimes, Sister Diane will provide recipes to accompany some produce with which the recipient might not be familiar, giving ideas on how to prepare it.
There are multiple ways to support Shepherd’s Corner. It’s open for public visits on Fridays from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Last Saturday, it sold organic bedding plants, heirloom tomatoes, sweet peppers, hot peppers, broccoli, eggplant, basil and other herbs. On Saturday, June 14, Shepherd’s Corner will hold its eighth annual Farm Fresh 5K, an all-terrain run or walk through its gardens, trails and woodland paths. Proceeds will benefit its “Feed the Hungry” gardens.
Given his interest in nineteenth-century farming publications, I couldn’t help sharing a few things with John. You might be interested in them too. Track down “Making the Most of Farm Life: The Diaries of Waldo F. Brown at the Walter Havighurst Special Collections, Miami University Libraries,” my contribution to the January 2009 issue of Agricultural History, on pages 110 and 111. Ohio Farmer, a “weekly journal devoted to agriculture, horticulture, the mechanic arts, science, literature, domestic economy, social improvement, and general intelligence,” has been published since 1852. Visit the reading room of the Ohio Historical Society’s Archives/Library, request some of its issues from 1853 to 1875, and you’ll find that they make for some fascinating reading.