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Gardeners at Fairhaven in Sykesville find ‘therapy’ in growing, donating vegetables

There’s a popular piece of land located on the Fairhaven campus that motorists can spy when driving along Obrecht Road in Sykesville, and it’s where Samuel Patsy and some of his friends spend quite a bit of time on most days.

Patsy said he grew up on a farm in western Pennsylvania, and moved to Fairhaven from Rockville about 1 1/2 years ago. His lifelong passion for gardening led him to secure a plot inside the retirement community’s 100-by-100-foot space. More than 30 other Fairhaven residents use the garden, which has become a source of pride and a resource for other community organizations — especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.

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The Fairhaven Garden Club has donated close to 300 pounds of vegetables during the pandemic, according to an article on Fairhaven’s website. Residents recently set up a stand near Sykesville’s Historic Colored Schoolhouse to give cucumbers, squash, tomatoes, zucchini and other veggies to local families. The gardeners’ group also donates produce to the Howard County Food Bank.

Some of Fairhaven’s residents said donating the produce gives them a purpose to help others, according to the online article, while providing an outlet to interact with others and avoid isolation and depression as COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, forces unwanted lifestyle changes to stay safe.

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The garden has 74 ground-level plots and 20 raised beds. Patsy’s plot isn’t raised, but it’s definitely full ― during the year, the 87-year-old said, he grows anything from tomatoes to peppers to Swiss chard to radishes to spinach. His prized vegetable just might be garlic, which Patsy said is more than 100 years old and can be traced back when he father brought it over from Italy.

“It’s cheaper than paying a doctor for a medication to calm me down,” Patsy said about spending time in the garden. “It’s a therapy. I mean, forget about the vegetables ... it’s the therapy of just getting out.”

Fairhaven has been affected by the coronavirus — 49 residents and 33 staffers tested positive, and 10 residents died — but the Carroll County Health Department on Wednesday said it no longer considers the site to have an active outbreak.

Patsy and some of his fellow gardeners said they have stayed safe and healthy during the pandemic, and have kept their plots going as best they could. The season for many flowers and vegetables is winding down, and the gardeners have begun creating a compost area for organic waste.

Jean Schaefer, 78, has a plot along the garden’s back fence. She said she started it at the beginning of 2020, after her husband died last September. Schaefer has been at Fairhaven since February 2019, she said, but feels right at home by being able to enjoy the outdoors while learning, and caring, about plants and vegetables.

Schaefer said she’s sticking with tomatoes right now, and had some of the cherry variety picked and washed Thursday morning.

Dale Bucks, also 78, helps oversee and organize the garden. Bucks, who has been a Fairhaven resident for five years, said the garden dates back to the 1980s, and he’s appreciative of his fellow gardeners for their dedication and care in keeping the grounds fertile.

Master gardener Sue Aldape says she has been gardening most of her life and was drawn to Fairhaven retirement community in Sykesville mainly because of its popular garden area.
Master gardener Sue Aldape says she has been gardening most of her life and was drawn to Fairhaven retirement community in Sykesville mainly because of its popular garden area. (Courtesy Photo/Fairhaven)

Bucks has a hand-washing station near the garden’s entrance, and said those who enter make sure to maintain social distance and follow Fairhaven’s health and safety guidelines.

“It’s just a lot of fun,” he said.

Sue Aldape, 73, said she has been gardening most of her life and took a master program when she retired. She tended to a community garden at a previous residence, and said the Fairhaven garden was one of the big draws for her when she moved a couple of years ago.

“The more I learn about it, the more I take different approaches and different techniques,” Aldape said earlier this week. “But this year especially, because of the pandemic ... being able to go and make sure the tomatoes were growing and water them. I don’t know, it just took away a lot of the anxieties that the pandemic created.

“For me it was ... what can I say, a mental health therapy.”

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