Brad Fields, an urban urban agriculture/landscape design student at Owens Community College, left, and little helper Martine Garcia, 5, right, pulls out a few weeds from his tomato patch in a community garden in Toledo.
Name: Brad Fields, carpenter's helper for a construction firm and student majoring in landscape design and urban agriculture at Owens Community College (I also work at Owens and am president of both the Student Government and the Environmental Club), living in East Toledo.
Garden specs: I started a nonprofit business this summer called Dreams of Fields Community Project (it's on Facebook), all about bringing the community together and inspiring young people. I have four gardens within a block or two of my home near Starr Avenue and Nevada Street. My backyard garden is 50-by-30 feet. I purchased an 80-by-80 foot plot last year for $250 from Neighborhood Housing Services of Toledo Inc. I'm also gardening on three nearby sites that are 130-by-30-feet, 150-by-65 feet, and 80-by-30 feet. They're mostly veggie beds but have some landscaping with trees/bushes/perennials, and all are works in progress. They keep me out of trouble and likewise, some of the kids in my neighborhood.
Photo gallery: Dreams of Fields community garden
When did you start gardening: When I was in fourth or fifth grade with my mother, Sandy Krieger. We did vegetables and a little landscaping at our home in Oregon. At my current home, I put in a vegetable garden six years ago, then added ponds and landscaping. I've also planted hostas in front of several neighbors' homes.
What do you grow? Everything from vegetables, perennials, shrubs, and trees, including fruit trees. Not too many annuals unless from seed or if they're given to me. I have four chickens and 13 rabbits in my backyard and 40-some chickens in a large coop at my lot down the street. The coops are made with salvaged lumber and tarps. I love using reclaimed materials. The raised beds are planted in large wooden boxes that had been used as stages at Owens. I built a big compost box with a hinged top from salvaged doors. My fire pit is made of two washing-machine barrels, one set on top of the other. I plan to build a greenhouse using old sliding glass doors. We've picked up lots of stuff from the curb -- decorations and building materials.
Favorite plant: I love them all; I look at them as my pets, I really do. I really enjoy the ones that are unique, you can eat, and that smell good. If I had to choose, probably the butterfly bush. I'm training one to be a standard [tree].
Give us a tip: A wise lady told me this and I always did this but when she told it to me I really liked it: "Whatever you take out of the soil you have to put back in."
Hours spent gardening: About 30 to 40 hours a week in the five gardens or at least a couple of hours in each one.
Annual expense: It's not really a lot of money. A lot of the plants are from Toledo Grows, some from Owens, and perennials from Nick and Nancy Gloria, owners of Rosebud's on Navarre. Supplemental food for the chickens and rabbits is at least $60 a month, but I also feed them a lot of greenery, including nutritious mulberry leaves.
Challenges: There is not enough time in the day. I'll be in one of the gardens sometimes until 11 at night with a coal miner's light strapped to my forehead, and that's after working an eight-hour day at Byers Remodeling LLC in Grand Rapids. It's also tough finding others that share my drive and energy level who want to change the world like I do. A lot of people talk but there's no action.
I'm proud of my family for supporting me, all the kids that help me do this, and the community for appreciating my gardens. It's always awesome when someone drives by and says, 'That looks great!' My wife, Nikki, does all the canning and cooking, and a neighbor lets me use her garage for a carpentry shop. The kids that pitch in regularly are Martine Garcia, 5; Christian Temple, about 12; Steven Dukeman, 13; Jacob Fields, 14; Jordan Fields, 11; Crimzen Fields, 11; Raquel Dukeman, 10; Sharonda Reilly, 9; Carlos Dukeman, 7; Breanna Terman, 11. At this point in the summer, we're watering and weeding.
What I've learned gardening: I learn something new every day when I garden, whether it's [about] a child I'm working with or an animal I'm caring for or a plant that wasn't there the day before. I'm not really religious at all but I believe God is love and if you live in love then you live in God. And the closest place to God for me is not in a church but in gardens. There in the garden is the true heaven for me.