Firefighters feast on fresh produce from year-round garden

FAE/Medic Shawn Warcup of the Ramona Fire Department/Cal Fire displays a bin of fresh vegetables he picked in Station 82’s garden. “This is pretty much like every other day,” he said.  Sentinel photo/Karen Brainard
FAE/Medic Shawn Warcup of the Ramona Fire Department/Cal Fire displays a bin of fresh vegetables he picked in Station 82’s garden. “This is pretty much like every other day,” he said. Sentinel photo/Karen Brainard

By Karen Brainard

When the firefighters of Ramona’s Station 82 are hungry for fresh-on-the-vine fruits or vegetables, they don’t have to walk far.

Just a few steps outside their station’s kitchen is their own year-round garden.

“All shifts contribute to the garden, on somewhat of a daily basis, depending on the garden needs,” said Shawn Warcup, a firefighter apparatus engineer/medic. “That’s from watering to trimming. It’s not very much work once it’s up and running.

“This is one easy way to keep money here. It doesn’t cost much.”

As Warcup reached among plants to pick off tomatoes, he noted that all  the tomatoes were planted at once.

“We’ll probably have three weeks where we have tomatoes coming out of our ears,” he laughed “We’ll make salsas and leave them in the refrigerator for the other shifts. Everybody likes salsa. Something gets eaten every day from the garden.”

Also in the garden are cucumbers, green beans, yellow squash, zucchini and three types of peppers—green, banana, and jalapeño.Fruit this summer has included plums, nectarines, apricots, and strawberries. New this year are grapevines, donated by a captain from another station.

“Basically we all donate to the garden,” said Warcup.

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Firefighter Shawn Warcup works in the garden at Ramona's Station 82. Sentinel photo/Karen Brainard

And they share their produce with the other fire stations — Ramona’s stations 80 and 81, and Mt. Woodson.

“I like the thought of being able to give other people things through our labor,” said the firefighter.

The garden was started by Fire Capt. Bob Bowden  with plant donations from his father. Most of the plants are grown from seed.

With fire personnel working three-day shifts, Relief Capt. Janae Shoemaker noted, “We sleep here, eat here. (It’s) basically our home away from home.”

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FAE/Medic Shawn Warcup picks tomatoes in Fire Station 82’s garden. Sentinel photo/Karen Brainard

Shoemaker said fire personnel bring enough food for a three-day shift or they pick up supplies and split the cost.

“We don’t force people to cook. Most of the time we cook one or two meals together,” she said.

Those meals will include their homegrown produce. Shoemaker said she recently made a fresh vegetable medley with an Italian vinaigrette dressing that Warcup described as cold and crunchy on a hot summer day.

Other dishes prepared at the station using the produce include tacos, beef-stuffed zucchini, and cucumber salad. With an abundance of banana peppers, Warcup said he was looking for recipe ideas.

They use no pesticides and keep water usage to a minimum. They compost their green waste and feed it back  to the garden.

The garden area also has its share of animals and birds.

A kestrel birdhouse stands high above the garden, drawing members from the falcon family, and an owl box had baby owls the first week that it was   installed.

“I think it’s kind of therapy to go out there and pick,” said Shoemaker.

The firefighters have had to deal with some pests, such as gophers, tomato worms and crows.

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Firefighter Reserve Matt Woychak, left, with the County Fire Authority, Capt. Janae Shoemaker, and FAE/Medic Shawn Warcup stand in the drought-tolerant garden that was donated to the station by Bryan Lindquist of Royal Palm Nursery. Sentinel photo/Karen Brainard

The plants in the garden depend on the season. Lettuce, cantaloupe, and pumpkins are just a few of the plants that will sprout during other times

of the year.

The fire station also has a landscaped garden of drought-tolerant plants, donated by Bryan Lindquist of Royal Palm Nursery in Ramona and maintained by the fire personnel.

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A kestrel birdhouse stands guard over the garden. Sentinel photo/Karen Brainard
   
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