Arlington students and residents turn their lawns into lettuce gardens

The stacks of fresh green lettuce looked cool and crunchy on a hot summer day, but what most refreshed Joan Horwitt was the steady stream of new gardeners who came by Ashlawn Elementary School to drop off their bounties.

Her project, Lawns 2 Lettuce 4 Lunch, has been encouraging residents in the Bluemont, Dominion Hills and Boulevard Manor neighborhoods to join students in turning their lawns over to lettuce and other vegetables to encourage healthy eating. And it seems to be working.

Students, with the help of Arlington County schools, turned a portion of the historic Reeves Farm into a raised-bed organic garden where they planted, weeded and grew greens, peas, potatoes and herbs all spring. They’ve been reaping their results this month and held their semiannual Fiesta Lunch for the school’s 500 students and staff members Tuesday.

In a video for Arlington County public schools, at www.apsva.us/greenscene, third-grade students talked about raising an entire bed of vegetables for the Arlington Food Assistance Center, and lined up for fourth, fifth and sixth helpings of their homegrown salads.

The project also engaged the community, with volunteers going door-to-door and offering seeds and advice to whoever would try starting a plot or planter. From that outreach emerged Donald M. Bisbee, 90, an Iowa native who’s lived and gardened in Arlington since 1959, and Arlington native Emily Henninger and her boyfriend, Bobby Sanchez, who tried gardening for the first time last year. Other neighbors taught the students how to make sweet potato candy and introduced the new gardeners to the perennial herb lovage.

“We’re changing the social norm,” volunteer Sandra Kalscheur said.

The residents at the Sunrise Adult Living Community joined in, and the staff members at Ashlawn also had a hand. Horwitt said Vietnamese maintenance workers have taught students how to make spring rolls from their bounty.

“Our work is not only about growing and eating healthy foods; it’s about intentional learning . . . intergenerational community-building, the use of yards and gardens in creative ways, finding local, neighborhood talent, not celebrity chefs, to share knowledge about growing and preparing food,” Horwitt said.

Horwitt, a civic activist and former Spanish teacher who received the Bill Thomas Outstanding Park Service Volunteers Award this spring, has bigger plans. She wants to turn the Reeves farmhouse into a learning center for gardening and Arlington’s agricultural history, with a working kitchen and classroom space.

Owned by Arlington County since 2001, the farmhouse and its surrounding 2.47 acres of land is the last working dairy farm in the county. The county will soon solicit proposals on what should be done with the property.

“We need someone to step up,” Horwitt said.

Patricia Sullivan seeks out news about Alexandria and Arlington County for the Washington Post.
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