In August 2015, at the request of Hilliard City Council and in cooperation with the Hilliard Recreation and Parks Department, the Hilliard Environmental Sustainability Commission began a study on improving community gardening.

Members researched best practices in community gardens and orchards from across the country. We had meetings with directors of community gardens in central Ohio and even phone conversations with organizers of a community orchard in Portland, Oregon.

A half-day retreat was held at which ESC members brainstormed with members of the community and parks staff members. From that meeting came an idea to develop plans and programming for a new community garden and orchard site on public land adjacent to the Heritage Preserve housing development.

ESC members set about developing the most comprehensive community garden and orchard in the region. A vision plan was developed that would be unlike anything any other municipality has attempted to create. Garden plots would be available for rent, of course, and so much more.

Commission members proposed a new building that incorporates the most up-to-date sustainable features, including the use of renewable energy. The facility would include a professional kitchen for cooking classes that the recreation and parks department could make available to residents. The building also would contain sustainability education displays, an important element given the location within a conservation neighborhood and the Big Darby Accord region.

Discussions continue on how this building could serve as a location for the Hilliard Food Pantry to collect fresh produce donated from the garden plots. The facility would be available to rent for events and special occasions The natural setting would be a beautiful backdrop for weddings and parties, while creating a revenue stream for the recreation and parks department to help offset operations costs.

Outside the main building, the setting would remain very natural, pastoral and, of course, sustainable.

Demonstration rain gardens and pollinator gardens would be included among the traditional gardening plots. Special plots would be designated for children's education, organized by the Little Acorn Children's Garden. Raised gardens would be created for handicapped gardeners and injured veterans.

An outdoor pavilion with kitchen elements would provide another space for classes and special events. Rather than hauling tools from home, gardeners could borrow tools from an on-site shed.

One of the unique elements would be a walk through orchard with fruit available for all residents. The orchard component would be informal so that it fits into the natural setting at Heritage Preserve and would include a variety of produce levels, from towering nut trees, to smaller fruit trees bearing apples or cherries, to low-growing berry shrubs.

The ESC recently presented the "vision" for this ambitious project to City Council; the presentation included a series of renderings and cost estimates developed in partnership with consultant Urban Decision Group, architecture firm G2 Architects and artist Gary Bumpus.

City Council will decide where the project goes from here and whether to embark upon formal planning. ESC members hope the final product is something that will set Hilliard apart as a leader in sustainability education and community gardening.

Pete Marsh is chairman of the Hilliard Environmental Sustainability Commission.