Community gardens blossom in Maryland

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CommunityGarden1WBy Kristy MacKaben

The popularity of community gardening is taking root in Maryland.

Community gardens are the perfect option for families who don't have space in their backyard or for families who need mentoring and like the idea of having experienced gardeners nearby, like the Fish family of Annapolis.

Before their daughter Harper was born four years ago, Lynne and Jeremy Fish knew they wanted to teach their children about food and healthy eating. When they first heard about community gardens, they signed up at Kinder Farm Park in Millersville and were placed on a waiting list for a few years. They hoped that through community gardening, where people rent plots of land, they would to learn how to garden successfully. What better way than by watching, listening and working beside master gardeners?

"It worked out pretty well. [Harper] was ready to go out there when she was 2 and that's the year we got it," Lynn says of their plot. "I just wanted her to know where food came from, and I wanted something we could do as a family outdoors."

As it turns out, Harper Fish is a little picky about her food. But not in the I-only-want-chicken-nuggets kind of way. She loves fruits and vegetables — but only if they come from her garden — a 100-square-foot plot at Kinderfarm. They grow squash, cucumbers, zucchini, broccoli, watermelon, peppers, strawberries and blueberries that rarely make it out of the garden.

"Those are her favorite," Lynne says. "She will eat basically anything she grows, which isn't the case when we go to the store. Gardening has made her a more adventurous eater."

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. 

Community gardens in the Baltimore/Annapolis area

community garden teo moon2WRead on for a list of a few family-friendly community gardens in the Baltimore/Annapolis area. Call or email about availability:

Chesapeake Bounty, St. Leonard
A little different from other community gardens, gardeners volunteer to work the entire garden instead of farming individual plots. In exchange for four volunteer hours, gardeners receive a half bushel of produce twice a month. Participation is free, but there is a waiting list.

Kinder Farm Park
Cost: $40 per 20-by-30-foot plot
Kinder Farm offers 130 spots, which fill quickly; currently there is a waiting list. Growing season is March 1 through Dec. 1, and a variety of fruits, vegetables, plants and flowers are grown. Also on the property, beekeepers manage hives, which allows for good pollination. The community garden is organic, so pesticides and chemicals are not allowed.

Howard County Conservancy Community Garden, Woodstock
Cost: $45 for season per 20-by-25-foot plot plus a $125 entrance fee. Eight hours of community garden work outside an individual plot also required.
The Howard Conservancy Community Garden offers 70 full plots, but there is a waiting list. Only organic pesticides are permitted in the community garden and a separate pollinator garden is maintained to attract beneficial insects and wildlife. Workshops and lectures are offered to gardeners, and donations of produce are often made to the Howard County Food Bank.

Columbia Gardeners' Inc., Columbia
Cost: $45 for 20-by-25-foot plot. For a plot in one of the organic gardens, a $110 entrance fee is required.
Columbia Gardeners Inc., in partnership with Howard County Recreation and Parks, maintains about 600 plots at three community gardens: Elkhorn, Long Reach and West Side. There is a waiting list for the plots, but usually plots open within a year.
Gardeners are asked to maintain their plots and plant before May 15. Information is posted on bulletin boards about when to plant and harvest certain plants.

Prince George's County Department of Parks and Recreation
Prince George's County Department of Parks and Recreation offers a handful of community gardens, with plots of different sizes and costs ranging from $30-$55. The gardens are organic, though organic pesticides can be used with approval of the site managers. Plots are available at Cherry Hill in College Park, Prince George's Sports & Learning Complex in Landover, Old Landover Hills in Landover, and Walker Mill in Capital Heights. Plots are available from March 1 to Dec. 1.

Grow Annapolis
Cost: $40 for each 3.5-by-12-foot plot
Located at the former recreation and parks building on the corner of Compromise and Newman streets in downtown Annapolis, the City Dock Community Garden offers 22 plots at the only community garden in downtown Annapolis. The garden is organic and there is often a waiting list.

Photo above: Teo Moon in his garden.

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