Blogger assignment: to check out the Fall Festival of the Master Peace Farm in Riverdale, Maryland, a garden established by U-Maryland’s Cooperative Extension Service as part of their food stamp nutrition education program. In charge is Vinnie Bevivino, a graduate in the environmental and soil sciences, whose goal for the garden is to "grow relationships".
MASTER PEACE or MASTERPIECE?
The main garden, produce from which is sold at the local farmer’s market, is tended by U.Md. hort students, who also mentor kids at the adjoining middle school in veg-growing. Local Master Gardeners volunteer in the garden and recently designed and installed a decorative garden of native and medicinal plants at the garden’s entrance. They also conduct part of their training there in the garden.
Next up, the 22 community garden plots that are assigned to neighbors for the grand sum of $10 per year, which is returned if the gardener sticks with it for the whole season, so it’s actually free. Also free are the tools, water and vegetable starts, which are grown in the U.Md. ag program and delivered to the garden at just the right time, with all those volunteers teaching gardeners exactly how to grow them.
There’s also a huge cistern, which they’ll be hooking up to a pressurizer so the water can be used supply a drip irrigation system for garden. There’s a new tunnel or high hoop building, so the growing can go on all winter, and fruit trees are on their way.
With all the town-gown integration going on in this garden, the ag department dean spoke up at the Fall Festival crowd to offer even more help from the faculty and students in surrounding towns – with not just gardens but also green roofs and other water-protecting improvements.
COMMUNITY GARDENERS TESTIFY
Recent retiree Carol Roberts had never had a sunny space and had never gardened before in her life til Vinnie cajoled her into giving it a try. In this gang-ridden neighborhood she calls "not the greatest," Carol feared her food would be stolen, but it hasn’t happened. She comes to the garden every day and declares not just that "It’s my life" but that her arthritis has improved because of it. Not to pile it on too much, I have to add that she credits the garden with now having waaay more friends in the neighborhood.
Carol was just one of the many community gardeners praising the Master Peace Farm to the assembled crowd that day. Another declared "I save plenty money!" and "Everything
I plant, it grow" and my favorite: "I don’t use no pesticide, no herbicide, no
kind of ‘cide." Another talked of her "big passion for
gardening," which she was nurturing by enrolling in the local Master Gardener program. Her 5-year-old son gardens alongside her and has learned a lot about food and nature. All the gardeners nodded when the last speaker said she’d lived in the
neighborhood for over 20 years and only now is "growing friendships" with neighbors
because of the garden. There’s that "growing relationships" thing that Vinnie talks about.
(Speaking of Vinnie, here he is, looking nothing like the character out of the "Sopranos" that his name would conjure up.)
Even the most cynical of bloggers would be bowled over by this project, in only its second year but already having a major impact on the community. Makes me wonder, is it unusual or does the university near you have something like this? I sure hope so.