Community garden blooms in Laurel


Joyce Nwabudike, a member of the Laurel community garden committee, waters her garden. She joined the committee with no gardening experience. (Jamie Anfenson-Comeau/THE GAZETTE)
June 12, 2013

Laurel resident Dawn Williams said she’s pleased that the community garden she helped plan for the past year and a half has blossomed into reality.

“This is such a great opportunity for the community to come together [and] get to know each other. It’s a social event,” Williams said during the garden’s open house June 1.

City Council member Frederick Smalls (Ward 2) planted the seed for the idea when he suggested starting a community garden in Laurel during a 2011 city event, Williams said.

The city signed a three-year renewable lease for a half-acre belonging to Laurel Presbyterian Church on Old Sandy Spring Road for the garden’s 58 plots.

“I wasn’t really thinking about setting one up here in the city; I was thinking about setting one up in some inner-city location,” said Williams, a member of the University of Maryland Master Gardeners Extension program, which educates household and community gardeners.

Williams created the garden formation committee, which includes fellow Laurel residents Joyce Nwabudike and Suzanna Pieslak.

Nwabudike said she became involved with the community garden committee even though she had never gardened before.

“The concept was so wonderful, and Dawn was just so enthusiastic,” Nwabudike said. “So I went ahead and bought the biggest plot, not having any concept of the time and the work and the energy it takes to do this.”

Nwabudike said she did not regret her enthusiasm.

“Now, I’ve got my potatoes and my onions coming up, and my summer squash from seed,” she said. “Some things have died, but that’s okay. I just keep going.”

Pieslak said she had helped create a community garden when she lived in Southeast Washington in 2010. The sense of community was missing when she moved to Laurel, and she started a garden in her back yard.

“It’s much more fun to be around other people and bounce ideas off each other,” Pieslak said.

Pieslak said that when she heard of the community garden committee, she offered her assistance.

Smalls said he approached Laurel Mayor Craig Moe, who initially was unsure about the idea but decided to lend the city’s support.

The city helped with the administrative aspect of getting the garden started but contributes no money to it, Smalls said.

“All the funds have been raised through the selling of plots,” he said. “From the start, it was our intention that this be self-sustaining.”

Williams said there is a one-time entrance fee of $125 to join the group, and plots range from $25 to $55 per year, depending on the size and whether the individual is a Laurel resident.

Smalls said he’s happy with the way the community garden has developed.

“This is exactly what I envisioned, the sense of community,” he said. “You’ve got all of these great people who just like getting their hands in the dirt and nurturing what comes up. What better way to bring our community together?”

Most of the plots — which vary in size from 10 feet by 10 feet to 20 feet by 20 feet — have been taken. Williams said a few plots remain for late-blooming gardeners.

The garden also hosts two plots for children to learn about gardening.

“It’s really important that kids see the vegetables grow,” Williams said. “They watch their food grow, and they develop a different relationship with the food.”

Williams said she is surprised with how the community garden has caught on in its first year and hopes the success will continue.

“It’s about developing good eating habits, good nutrition,” Williams said. “When you grow your own food, you know where your food comes from. It’s just reaping benefits across the board.”

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