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Baltimore: Community garden lessons in nutrition and more

  • Subject: [cg] Baltimore: Community garden lessons in nutrition and more
  • From: Don Boekelheide dboekelheide@yahoo.com
  • Date: Thu, 17 Aug 2006 17:23:19 -0700 (PDT)

The Baltimore Sun, Maryland, USA
August 16, 2006

Community gardeners taking lessons in nutrition,
charity, stress reduction

By Joni Guhne
Special to The Sun

Lisa Musser-Jacobs, whose dad grew up on a farm in
Gaithersburg, never wanted her daughters to think
produce just magically appeared in the supermarket.

After spending a hot Saturday morning tending the
South County Community Garden, they don't.

With as many as 100 varieties of vegetables, flowers
and herbs - including 400 tomato plants and a third of
a mile of potatoes - the garden has sprouted lessons
about work, charity and family.

Musser-Jacobs, who along with her husband, Don, and
their two children, Kara, 12, and Leigh, 9, are among
the 42 members of the 3 1/2 -acre garden next to Jug
Bay Wetlands Sanctuary in Lothian.

More like a small farm than a typical community garden
where land is subdivided and individuals work separate
plots, this privately operated garden is communal,
said Lloyd Lewis, a Mayo resident and head volunteer

Under his direction, families and individuals commit
to working in the garden at least 10 hours a month
throughout the growing season, nurturing seedlings,
planting and tending crops, and harvesting up to 150
bushels of produce. The volunteer gardeners donate 80
percent of that bounty to local nonprofit
organizations, and they take home 10 percent. The rest
goes to the critters the fence can't keep out.

Two barns and a shed house the farm equipment and
wheat straw purchased from neighboring farmers that is
used to mulch the garden. The Smithsonian
Environmental Research Center donated a greenhouse
where seedlings are started in late winter.

"We start our spring and early-summer plants in March,
while there's still snow on the ground," said Lewis.
"Because the plants are started in the
climate-controlled greenhouse, we have early
production, harvesting tomatoes in late June and early

A local beekeeper maintains hives that aid with
pollination and provide honey for members. Members
also take turns watering, mulching and mowing, but
everyone is called upon when it's time to plant and
harvest, said Lewis.

Mike Thompson of Churchton, whose day job is
developing software for the county, became a community
gardener this year. He said he puts in five to 10
hours a week there. "Every member pays $150," said
Thompson. "I got back $150 worth of stuff before the
summer garden came in.

"The process has dropped my blood pressure from 'you
might need some medicine' to 'nice and low,'" said
Thompson, 50, whose eldest son has volunteered in the
garden. "The reason for that," he said, "is that this
is a big, big garden, and a huge amount of manual

Musser-Jacobs, of Churchton, agreed the gardening is a
lot of work. It takes a day just to water all the
tomatoes, and she has never paid so much attention to
the rain forecast. But she likes spending her weekends

"The part I like best is giving the stuff to the
elderly," Musser-Jacobs said. "Both my parents have
passed on, but both of them would have loved this, my
dad especially."

Phelps Kelly, 45, of Arnold said he enjoys spending
Saturday mornings in the garden with daughters Brianna
and Maggie.

A freshman at Severna Park High School, Brianna, 14,
enjoys the "garden's landscaping," which attracts many
birds. Having studied bird calls in school, Brianna
recently identified an Eastern wood peewee by his
call. "There are birds flying all over the place," she

Maggie, 11, a sixth-grader at Key School, said of her
community garden experience: "I like to dig up all the
food because when you go home you can have a bunch of
good food to eat."

Musser-Jacobs is impressed with the way Lewis
encourages the children's interest in the garden.

"Lloyd is so funny with the kids," she said. "He says,
'Oh, look. Here's a sweet pea. Try this sweet pea
right off the vine.' And before you know it, kids who
won't eat vegetables for their parents are eating them
and saying, 'This is so good.'"

A retired federal oceanographer, Lewis, 67, joked that
when he was a kid, "My mother used to beat me silly to
get me to weed the garden."

No such coercion is necessary today. The man who
divides his volunteer time between the Chesapeake Bay
Foundation, the Mayo Kiwanis Club and the community
garden said, "It gets in your blood." He personally
delivers much of the produce donated to the South
County Senior Center in Edgewater; Our Lady of
Perpetual Help Catholic Church's assistance program;
Camp Wabanna, a nondenominational camp for children;
and to individuals in need.

"The lion's share goes to South County Senior Center,"
said Lewis.

When the harvest is at its peak, volunteer gardeners
deliver the freshly picked produce to the senior
center two or three times a week. The free food is
laid out on tables and it's first-come, first-served.

"The price is right," said center Director Sharon
Poet, "and it promotes good eating and good nutrition.
The seniors take their pick, take it home and enjoy

That's also what the birds, rabbits, moles and
groundhogs do. While the electric fence, donated by
the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center, keeps
out the deer, other intruders are undeterred.

"Groundhogs used to come along and eat one bite out of
a ripe tomato, decide they don't like that one, and
move on to the next," Lewis said.

At least for now, the gardeners are one step ahead of
the groundhogs: The volunteers pick the tomatoes while
they're green and let them ripen on the windowsill.

Copyright ) 2006, The Baltimore Sun

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