PITTSBURG, Kan. —
I drive past Fire Station No. 1 on Fourth Street several times a day on most days, so this summer when most vegetation turned brown and crunchy, a bit of green to the east of the station caught my eye.
I had given up on my own raised bed vegetable gardens early on in the season, as a few early 100-degree days stretched on into unending weeks of such heat. Without any rainfall, my blue water barrel soon emptied, and quite frankly, I grew as oppressed by the heat as the plants.
Strawberry plants quickly shriveled up and disappeared. Oregano dried into the sort you’d find packaged in a plastic cylinder on a grocery store shelf. I was disgusted, but not surprised, as it was the second year in a row for such miserable growing conditions.
Curious to find out who the people were that planted the little island of green by the fire station and how on earth they kept it looking so good all summer long, I finally caught up to a few of the firemen Friday morning in hopes they could give me answers.
Turns out it’s their vegetable garden, started by the A Shift and cared for day in and day out, no matter the weather.
Capt. Taylor Cerne said they planted a variety of peppers, tomatoes, chilis, okra and zucchini, packing a lot of bang for their buck into a small space.
The firefighters paid for the vegetable plants and fertilizer, as they do with all food they consume while on duty.
“A lot of people probably don’t realize we furnish all our own food,” he said.
They, too, were pleasantly surprised with how well the garden produced this summer.
“We had more tomatoes and peppers than we could eat,” Cerne said.
By planting the garden, they were getting several benefits: They added fresh produce to their diet, as well as the spice for which firefighters often are noted.
“We keep a lot of Tagamet and Rolaids handy,” joked Fire Chief Scott Crain.
Jim Raddell, who most often plays the role of firehouse chef, integrates the produce into the shift’s favorite fare: chili, jambalaya, gumbo and Mexican dishes.
But the garden also benefited the firemen in another way, Cerne added, because they took turns caring for the garden by watering it and weeding it as often as needed.
“It’s nice to get out and away from the normal stuff,” Cerne said. “Just to be out there tending to it and making sure everything is growing good.”
Follow Andra Stefanoni on Facebook at facebook.com/andrajournalist and on Twitter @AndraStefanoni.