Gardens foster community involvement
Remnants of the foundation of an old house can still be found at Sligo Mill Park, a small underused neighborhood park on Orchard Avenue in Takoma Park.
But after Montgomery County opened its first community garden at Sligo Mill on Saturday, county planners and nearby residents say that same land will now be the foundation for a more vibrant community.
About 30 residents, who won plots at the garden through a lottery system, joined county officials and their neighbors early Saturday for the first day of gardening. The county's Parks Department dug out 33 plots at the park, giving nearby residents priority for the plots.
"It's nice to get out and get your hands dirty," said Bruce Vogt as he tended to his 200-square-foot garden plot while talking with his neighbor Ralph Terry.
Vogt and Terry said there isn't any space to garden in the nearby apartment building they live in, so the community garden is a needed amenity.
"A lot of people moved to Takoma Park thinking this is the type of thing there would be," Terry said.
Most in attendance Saturday said that in a city as environmentally-conscious and community oriented as Takoma Park, a community garden is a perfect fit. A community garden is a plot of public land where local residents can purchase space to garden.
On Saturday, individuals and entire families were hard at work with rakes and shovels, tending the land for optimal growing conditions and sharing strategies with each other. Because the foundation for a house was found on the land, much of the work Saturday included cleaning up the site.
In addition to loads that filled three dump trucks, community gardeners filled plastic containers full of glass and bricks. Vogt even found a nearly intact brick walkway about a foot beneath the dirt surface of his plot. One woman lugged a large rock away from her plot, receiving applause from fellow gardeners.
But most gardeners didn't mind the extra work.
"I'm willing to put in my share and the county puts in theirs," said Laura Delaney, who lives near the site of the gardens.
Councilwoman Valerie Ervin began pushing for the gardens in November. Due to past demand for community gardens, the parks department quickly began determining potential sites. Sligo Mill Park was chosen and after positive community feedback, the parks department began to work on the land. The plots sold out quickly and there is a 20-person waiting list.
"I came by a couple weeks ago and it was tree trunks and grass and I said, Is this going to happen?'" said community gardener Elsa Noterman, who plans on growing corn, sunflowers and beans. "But here it is."
Other neighborhoods weren't as receptive to a garden. Silver Spring Intermediate Park at the corner of Boston and Chicago avenues had been pegged as a community garden site, but residents rejected the plans because the neighborhood already uses the park for recreation purposes.
On a cloudy day Saturday, Intermediate Park was empty at 11:30 a.m. except for a pair of basketball players.
The community garden at Sligo Mill – another will open soon off Layhill Road in Sandy Spring, near the Red Door Country Store – is a pilot project and could lead to other community garden sites. But not at Silver Spring Intermediate, Ervin said.
"I don't think we will go back there, it's too volatile," said Ervin (D-Dist. 5) of Silver Spring, who plans to grow tomatoes, squash and watermelon at her plot at Sligo Mill, which she is sharing with a friend.
In addition to the actual garden plots, the parks department planted nine fruit trees and installed a bulletin board with soil analysis and the rules of the garden. The Friends of Sligo Creek will install a rain garden, the parks department is trying to commission an Eagle Scout to build a tool shed and an old oak tree trunk will be carved into a seating area for children, said Ursula Sabia-Sukinik, community garden coordinator for the county parks department.
"We just really want to build an amazing community," Sabia-Sukinik said.