Who would’ve thought that a piece of ground just 30-feet-by-30-feet on a pipeline easement could be such a lush patch of green loaded with veggies and fruit after the heat of late June, and scorching, record-setting July? But there it is: a veritable cornucopia of greens and hanging veggies filling little garden plots, just 4 x 12 each.
The gardeners tending these plots and growing nutritious food for their tables are residents of the Cedar Ridge Apartments directly across a gas pipeline from Forest Edge Elementary School. The land between Cedar Ridge and Forest Edge is the natural gas pipeline right-of-way which runs from south to northeast through Reston.
This location seemed a natural for a community garden when the idea was initially put forth by Diane Blust, President of the Fairfax Coalition for Smarter Growth and its Sustainable Reston. Nearby were people who just might have an interest in, and could clearly benefit from, growing their own food; and, a rarity in Reston, a piece of arable land which available if pipeline owners agreed. What Sustainable Reston needed were community partners to provide modest funding, technical support, and a working relationship with the potential gardener-beneficiaries.
In just a few months, Ms. Blust found willing community partners who, along with Sustainable Reston volunteers, formed the critical mass to make the pilot project a reality. Reston Interfaith CEO Kerrie Wilson immediately saw the potential benefit for Cedar Ridge residents, some of whom, she knew had farming backgrounds. RI would reach out to Cedar Ridge residents interested in working the soil.
At Reston Association and the non-profit Friends of Reston, Ms. Blust found dynamic, supportive backers in Claudia Thompson-Deahl and Larry Butler at the former, and Katie Shaw at the latter.
Soon, their organizations and the Reston Community Center agreed to provide decisive financial and logistical support. They took care of getting the necessary approvals, plowing the soil, providing chain link fence sufficient to keep out marauding deer, delivering loads of mulch and woodchips (for paths between rows), and a rain barrel.
Several Reston residents made donations to the Friends to buy fencing, for example. Sustainable Reston volunteers donated hand tools, seedlings, seeds and their time to lay out plots according to the ingenious plan drawn by another volunteer.
While all was coming together at the site, Ms. Blust and Reston Interfaith staff met with the potential gardeners. In the end, seven men and four women signed up to participate and take responsibility for the entirely organic garden under terms clearly spelled out in an agreement signed by all.
Finally, the day came in May when the ground and all the inputs were on site and ready so that individual plots could be tilled and the planting and watering could begin. That first day was very warm and the sun unforgiving.
The gardeners were excited at the prospect of finally getting into their soil. They worked until all the individual plots were tilled with rakes and hoes, and all available seedlings and seeds were neatly in the ground and watered by hand from the rain barrel. It was hard work, especially for some of the older gardeners with mobility issues. But they worked into the afternoon until everything was planted.
An inauguration ceremony was held on July 11, about six weeks after the day of the first planting. Over that six weeks, the gardeners had not only taken good care of their plots, they had added many more plants and seeds they had acquired in the same time. The gardeners pointed with pride to their garden filled with zucchini, summer squash, eggplants, several varieties of tomatoes and peppers, okra, molokhia (middle eastern edible green), basil, parsley, mint, and garlic chives.
Representatives from all the Reston community organizations who had chipped in to make it possible could also be seen beaming. Ken Knueven, Reston Association Board President, commented that the community indeed should build upon
this successful prototype for producing food locally.
I couldn’t agree more.