With long hair and a big handlebar mustache, Tom Walker is recognizable --and everyone in Millvale seems to know him.
He’s also busy in the community. Walker is a "semi-retired" graphic designer, he’s on the board of directors for the Millvale Community Development Corporation and he’s an avid kayaker and backpacker.
Walker is also known as “The Garlic King of Millvale.”
“I didn’t get as much planted this year," Walker said. "I probably have about 1,200 cloves planted this year. I usually do at least twice that much, but one thing and another this year, and I just sort of ran out of time.”
He grows 13 different varieties of garlic, from Italian to Armenian. Much of the work is done on his 21-acre farm in Donegal, but some of the cloves are grown in several community gardens across Millvale that he helped create.
The community gardening effort started in 2007, when Walker and other Millvale residents included communal garden beds when they founded the Millvale Community Library. The demand quickly outstripped the available space.
"There were only a few beds back there, but people were saying, 'How can I get a bed?'" Walker said. "Well, you can get a bed when somebody dies or whatever, because we don’t have many together."
Since then, Walker and the group The Gardens of Millvale have used Allegheny County grant money to convert two more empty properties into community gardens, including one with a chimney-swift bird habitat and a large "hoop-house" -- a long greenhouse with a semi-circular roof.
Millvale is a little town of 3,700 residents bordering Pittsburgh on the north bank of the Allegheny River. Walker grew up just across the water in Lawrenceville, but he and his family have called Millvale home since 1977.
“We bought the house, and now we’re in our 40-year starter home,” he joked.
Walker also helps out Millvale in other ways. He volunteers his graphic design skills to help promote the annual Millvale Brew Festival, and he was a volunteer basketball coach for five years.
In the early 2000s, Walker led the committee that first pushed to create the Millvale Riverfront Park.
“It was probably one of the things that really started to get me really involved in a lot of development that had gone on, given that I was the chair of the committee,” Walker said.
Now, the Riverfront Park is fully fitted with bike and boat rentals, a tackle shop, and a pavilion. It also contains a nearly 2-mile bike path, part of the 25-mile Three Rivers Heritage Trail.
Walker said part of his drive to give back to his hometown comes from his days as an outdoorsman.
“We always left the campsite better than when we arrived," Walker said. "We would always clean it up [and] make sure it was better than when we got there. We would always leave a stack of firewood for who got there next. So it’s part of that philosophy of leaving something behind that’s better than when you first got here.”