Community gardens blossom in Maryland

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community gardens harper fish3WGardening temps young taste buds

Pinar Moon of Columbia also wanted to raise healthy eaters by gardening. When her son, Teo, was 2, she signed up on the waiting list for Columbia Gardeners Inc. West Side Garden. By the time Teo was 4, he was such a picky eater that Pinar practically begged Columbia Gardeners to let her rent a plot in one of their community gardens. The Moons live in a townhouse with a small backyard, so a backyard garden wasn't possible.

"My boy turned into a really picky eater, and I thought gardening would be good," Pinar says, explaining Teo would only eat hot dogs or peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.

They began gardening last year on a plot at the West Side Garden, and Teo now takes handfuls of green beans and eats them fresh from the garden. He loves peas, tomatoes and pretty much any fruit.

"When you're more interested in the food yourself — you plant it from a seed and water it and watch it grow — you warm up to it a little bit more," Pinar says.

Garden demand grows faster than space

The Fishes and Moons aren't the only families wanting to get in on the community gardening action. Kinder Farm Park has a five-year waiting list, and gardens with Columbia Gardeners Inc. and other community gardens in the area also have waiting lists.

"There is more demand than availability," says Georgia Eacker, member of the grounds and garden committee at the Howard County Conservancy, which also provides land for community gardening. "People are becoming more aware that the best produce is that which is grown."

Community gardening isn't new — the concept was around in the 1800s when gardens were established in cities to teach urban children about gardening, says Cordalie Benoit, board member of the American Community Gardening Association based out of Ohio.

In recent years, community gardens have gained popularity as people search for ways to eat fresh, organic foods.

"You'd be hard-pressed to find a county in America where there isn't a community garden," Benoit says.

Working together creates community

Community gardens also benefit families looking for a way to spend time together. While backyards are fine for growing fruits and vegetables, community gardens offer much more than a plot of land with fertile ground and plenty of sun, says Bill Offutt, superintendent of Kinder Farm Park.

"It can bring communities together. Overwhelmingly, it's a positive program. People really enjoy it," Offutt says, explaining many families bring their kids who help or play together.

Community gardens can serve as social meeting places, and people enjoy interacting and sharing in the work. "Sometimes families work plots together. It's a good way to get kids interested," Eacker says.

Most community gardens have a diverse community of gardeners — from master gardeners who have been at it for decades to families who garden with young children.

No matter the gardener, however, it's important that plot owners spend the time to make the entire garden successful. Regular weeding is important, and in July or August the garden should be watered every day, Offutt says. If gardens aren't cared for, owners are asked to give up their plot, he says, explaining that it is a big time commitment.

In the beginning, Harper just played in the dirt and searched for bugs, but over the years, she has learned to help weed and water, and her parents have learned how to garden by watching and listening to advice from neighboring gardeners.

"If I can do it, I feel like anybody can," Lynne says. "I don't even have house plants."

Photo top: Pinar and Teo Moon in their West Side Garden in Columbia. Below: Harper Fish, 4, in her Kinder Farm Park garden. 

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