District-wide Community Garden Census

October 27, 2009

Author: Neighborhood Farm Initiative

Category: General News

By Katie Cerretani

I grew up with a backyard vegetable garden and have been yearning to have my own ever since I moved to the DC area about six years ago. Being easily distracted and moving frequently enough, I’ve limited myself to container gardening for the most part, but have become intrigued with the community garden concept ever since I had the chance to help out with NFI’s garden census.

Bea interviews a gardener at Melvin Hazen Community Garden

I visited several gardens in the upper reaches of the District with Bea as part of NFI’s effort to map out gardens and interview their denizens. We started at Fort Totten, taking GPS points to get an accurate picture of the garden’s size and location and interviewing some folks tending their plots. When we found people to talk to (rain threatened all day and likely kept people closer to home) Bea would interview the garden managers, and I got to chat up the gardeners themselves.

As I spoke with the gardeners at Fort Totten, I was struck by how peaceful it seemed, despite (or perhaps because of) the reggae music spilling over from a nearby party. I could get used to spending more time out there. And the plots were chock full of vegetables (and some fruits), so many so that when I attempted to record the different crops, I started out writing feverishly and eventually gave up in favor of more general descriptions with a few examples. It never ceases to amaze me how much you can grow in a small space if you work at it.

Throughout our afternoon trek, smaller community gardens dominated, with one exception (Blair Road Community Garden) that was an oasis of ‘open’ space on the edge of town. Standing in the middle of this community garden, I almost forgot I was even in a city – road noise was nonexistent; the dominant sound was wind blowing through crops and the grasses in between.

Blair Road Community Garden is DC’s largest garden – over 5 acres!

One of the gardeners I met there had started his plot a few decades ago and was still going strong. He looked confused when I asked where he had learned to garden. He learned it growing up, from his father. Ask the younger gardeners, and they will probably say they learned through trial and error, reading books, or web research. Prod them a bit more, and maybe they’ve observed or even chatted up other gardeners. A couple had even attended NFI courses. Not only can community gardens be a place you go to for your own little space, but they are real places for exchange and even education.

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