Taking over much of the responsibility for coordinating the PWEC community garden, Kathy Pearson said “by involving the community in our project, we are sharing the experience and rewards of gardening.” (Photo by Kathi Ferguson)

Enthusiasm does not begin to describe what Kathy Pearson exudes while talking about the community gardens she tends at Phillips Wharf Environmental Center on Tilghman Island.
“This is the first time I’ve actually done box gardening,” she says. “And I am now looking after 22 of them!”
Kathy is referring to what began as an experiment for PWEC in 2015.
Now considered a designated branch of the organization, the PWEC Community Garden’s mission is to be a source of healthy organic produce for the community, and to educate all age groups about the importance of locally-sourced food.
PWEC offers Tilghman Islanders space in their raised boxes to house produce of their choice for a small price. While Kathy and volunteers will plant, water, weed, and maintain the crops, customers can harvest them at their leisure. “We’ve sold six boxes this season, and we will soon be adding container planting,” Kathy says. “Some folks enjoy tending to their own crops, but it is all up to the individual. The main thing is that by involving the community in our project, we are sharing the experience and rewards of gardening.”
Gardens at PWEC consist of a variety of herbs, vegetables and fruits on approximately one acre of the center’s property. Crops are raised organically from seed to full yield with a high level of care, and include garlic, tomatoes, radishes, peas, several kinds of potatoes, lettuce, blueberries, cantaloupe, parsley, basil, thyme and lavender.
“There is not much we don’t have in here.” Pearson says. Two apple trees, a peach and a pear tree, along with a fig tree, donated by a local farmer, add to the collection.
Folks have the choice of purchasing a full box or half, and most select what they want to grow. Rose Garvin, a long-time Tilghman resident is one of Pearson’s biggest fans. “This is the third year in a row I have had my garden box and I really enjoy it,” says Miss Rose. “I can’t work in the garden like I used to, so this keeps me involved without having to actually do the work. Now I can supervise.”
Several PWEC interns, along with Master Gardner Phyllis Thibodeau, got the gardens going until Pearson took over in 2018. Pearson applies her Cherokee roots to her craft by incorporating what is known as companion, or “three sisters” planting into the garden.
“My heritage plays a major role in how I approach things,” she says.
The three sisters are corn, beans and squash. Native Americans inter-planted this trio because they thrive together, much like three inseparable sisters.
“The corn stalks offer support for the beans, the beans pull nitrogen from the air and bring it to the soil, and the large squash leaves shade the beans.” Pearson said.
One of the more rewarding aspects of Pearson’s work is teaching the community’s younger generation about gardening. Once a week, from January through May, she spends time at Tilghman Elementary School opening the eyes and minds of the island’s youth to the wonders of the garden.
“We have two garden beds on the school property, and I work with kids from Kindergarten through the fifth grade,” she says. “They learn about seeds and sprouts, soil and its nutrients, ‘good’ and ‘bad’ bugs, how to plant properly, crop rotation, all kinds of things. I even tell them it is okay to talk to the plants!”
Often the kids visit me at PWEC over the summer, and I encourage them to help out. But they have to follow the rules — walk, don’t run, through the garden, and put all their tools away.”
Phillip’s Wharf Environmental Center was created to raise awareness about the ecosystem and heritage of the Chesapeake Bay, and how watermen harvest its bounties.
The PWEC community gardens are a natural extension of that — connecting us to our food while reminding all of us of how things used to be when planting and yielding the season’s crops were a part of everyday life.
(Writer’s note: Phillips Wharf Environmental Center and community gardens are located on the Knapp’s Narrows waterfront of Tilghman Island. Summer hours are Thursday through Monday, 10 am to 4 pm, and the produce is available for purchase.)