On a bright, sunny Thursday morning in October, ANR Extension Educators, Carrie Brown of Fairfield County and Dan Lima of Belmont County, teamed up with the North American Pawpaw Growers Association (NAPGA) and the Ohio Nut Growers Association (ONGA) to establish a grove of pawpaw trees at the Mansfield Correctional Institution.
The project has been led by, Jim Dingus, Mansfield Correctional Institution staff member and founder of Pawpaw Chronicles, a group created to dispense resources and promote America’s largest native fruit. Working with Dan Matesich, president of the Ohio Chapter of NAPGA, Brian Farmer, vice-president of ONGA, correctional institution staff, and five inmates, over a hundred pawpaw saplings were planted, staked, and protected with animal guards.
The seeds had been propagated by inmates the year prior with the intention of creating this grove on prison grounds. The pawpaw grove is situated adjacent to a previously-established apple orchard and newly planted chestnuts and persimmons.
Next spring, Dingus will teach inmates how to graft scions onto these saplings. Grafting is the act of joining two plants together and is very common in the horticulture and nursery industry. Did you visit an apple orchard this fall? If so, you saw grafted trees! Almost all fruit trees are grafted.
A grafted plant has two parts: scion wood and root stock. The scion is a young shoot or twig, selected from a plant with desirable qualities known as a cultivar. Popular pawpaw cultivars include NC-1, Potomac, Shenandoah, Wabash, KY Champion, just to name a few. These varieties are selected for characteristics such as fruit production, fruit quality and/or flavor, or ripening timing. The root stock is what was planted this year, as these saplings will become the root system when they are grafted in the spring. The act of grafting will take place in the field.
Why pawpaw? Our state native tree produces large, edible fruits in the fall that can be eaten fresh or used in a variety of products including beer, breads, and ice cream. Perhaps, you have visited the Ohio Pawpaw Festival, held annually each September, to sample some of these tasty treats! And because they are native to Ohio, pawpaws require very little inputs and experience few pest problems.
Projects like these require personal investment, patience, and planning. These attributes are what can keep a person driven and successful; perhaps, even inspire someone that was given a second chance.
Stay tuned for future updates on the pawpaw prison project!