Plans blossom for community gardens
Seven new gardens planned countywide this spring
After the success of the county's first community garden in Takoma Park last summer, several more will sprout up around the county this spring, but there are roadblocks to the county's proposal to allow students to grow food gardens on Montgomery County Public Schools' property.
Montgomery County Parks Department has proposed seven new gardens across the county this spring. Two would be installed in Silver Spring: a 120-plot garden on Briggs Chaney Road and land at the corner of King Street and Eastern Avenue in south Silver Spring that was donated by a local developer.
When the first community garden was constructed at Sligo Mill Park, a small underused neighborhood park on Orchard Avenue in Takoma Park, the 33 plots sold out quickly as residents in the nearby apartment buildings and cramped single-family neighborhoods cherished a place to commune out in the open.
Due to the success of the Takoma Park garden, the Montgomery County Parks Department received phone calls "every other day" from residents asking for a garden to be installed in their neighborhood, said David Vismara the chief of the horticultural services division with Parks. A community garden is a plot of public land where local residents can purchase space to garden.
"All we really need is sun and a way to get water on that site. We don't even necessarily need soil," Vismara said, noting it is possible to put elevated gardens in vacant parking lots if the community wants it.
At Sligo Mill Park, a boy scout troop raised $900 to install a storage shed and the City of Takoma Park pitched in $10,000 for a deer fence. The garden featured a kiosk with neighborhood information and gardening tips, which were also available on an online listserv for gardeners. The plots cost $30 for a 200-square-foot spot and $40 for a 400-square-foot spot and were awarded through a lottery system.
Despite the demand across the county, the majority of residents near another proposed garden site at Silver Spring Intermediate Park, at Boston and Chicago avenues, rejected plans earlier this year because the neighborhood already uses the park for recreation purposes.
"A community had to want a garden in their neighborhood" to receive one, said Councilwoman Valerie Ervin (D-Dist. 5) of Silver Spring, at a joint meeting Monday between the county council's Education committee and its Planning, Housing and Economic Development committee. Ervin began pushing for the county to establish community gardens in November 2008.
"We had a community that didn't want a garden, and they were loud and clear about it."
And while MCPS officials liked the idea of putting community gardens on school grounds, they too were concerned a food garden could cause more harm than good.
Some MCPS schools currently feature greenhouses and four types of instructional gardens to supplement environmental and horticultural curriculum. But none of those grow food. That's because Maryland's schools are bound by the state Department of Agriculture's Integrated Pest Management regulations, which require notification and approval of any pesticide use on school property.
While Parks' gardens are organic and pesticide-free, there's no way to keep neighbors living near the hypothetical school gardens from applying their own pesticides, said Craig Shuman, a facilities designer with MCPS. And MCPS would also be liable for any allergic reactions students have to any chemicals used in food gardens, he said.
Plus, community gardens require "constant oversight," Vismara said every plot at Sligo Mill Park is subject to routine inspections which is something teachers or students can't always provide.
So instead Parks has identified 30 elementary schools and four middle schools where community gardens could be established on nearby Parks-owned land and used as a partnership between the neighborhoods and schools.
But with school systems in Washington and Kent counties and Baltimore City already establishing food gardens at schools, county councilmembers questioned why MCPS couldn't circumvent the state regulations to put safe food gardens on school property, too.
Those school systems "must worry about all the same things and yet they can get this done," said Council President Nancy Floreen (D-At large) of Garrett Park. "I'm bewildered why we can't find a small place for these good things."
Future sites being considered
for Montgomery County Parks Department community gardens:
2161 Briggs Chaney Road in Silver Spring
Bradley Local Park, 8703 Hartsdale Avenue in Bethesda
Kings Crossing Local Park, 14221 Kings Crossing Blvd in Boyds
Waters Landing Local Park, 13701 Waters Landing Drive in Germantown
Corner of King Street and Eastern Avenue in south Silver Spring
South Germantown Recreational Park, 18041 Central Park Circle in Boyds
Norwood Local Park, 4700 Norwood Road in Bethesda