PEOPLE WHO want to raise vegetables, but don't have any land, may have a better chance this year to find a garden plot and someone to till it. All gardeners can learn about growing vegetables at workshops and lectures being offered this year by the newly formed Garden Resources of Washington (GROW).
RIFs in government agencies, the depressed economy and freezes in Florida are causing more people in this area to try growing their own food. The skyrocketing prices of soft crops are also helping encourage urban gardens, according to Paul Perez, Regional Community Garden Coordinator for the National Park Service. Soft crops, explains Perez, are literally "soft" vegetables, such as tomatoes and green peppers, that cost a lot to transport since they have to be carefully boxed for shipping.
Greens including swiss chard, all types of beans, squash, zucchini and tomatoes grow best in the Washington area.
GROW is taking the names of would-be gardeners in the District, Maryland and Virginia who have been unable to find a plot for the upcoming growing season. Their number is 234-6300.
"GROW is working with area governments," said Allison Brown, the coordinator. "As soon as they notify us of available land, usually privately owned but vacant lots, we try to match people with plots in their neighborhood."
Because of the increasing interest in growing your own vegetables, most of metropolitan Washington's garden plots have long waiting lists--though the District of Columbia and Montgomery County still have a few plots available.
Some 1,500 urban garden plots are in the metropolitan area (including Northern Virginia and Maryland), operated by the National Park Service, the extension services or local departments of recreations. Most are free, but a few charge a small fee.
To try for one of the few District plots still available, call extension service agent Jerome Thomas at 282-7410.
Free gardens are offered by the National Park Service. Its three major sites are: Rock Creek Park (1,000 plots), National Capital Parks/East (which includes Fort Dupont and Oxon Hill Farm, totaling about 250 plots), and the George Washington Memorial Parkway at Jones Point, Alexandria (50 plots). National Park Service's Perez says they range in size from 15-by-20-feet to 20-by-20-feet. The Park Service has reduced the size of the plots to make more gardens to meet the high demand, says Perez..
Almost all the plots are taken for this year, but to be sure, would-be gardeners should call the individual sites. "Each site is run separately," he says. The Rock Creek site is coordinated by Berne Teeple. He asks that requests be sent to him, in care of Rock Creek Park, 5000 Glover Rd. NW, Washington, D.C. 20015. Cynthia Stith is the garden coordinator for the Northeast sites. Call her at 472-9227. The George Washington Memorial Parkway is run by Barbara Lynch, who can be reached at 548-2891.
Alexandria has three sites, run by the Department of Recreation. Unfortunately, says spokeswoman Marge Cooley, all of the plots are taken. To be put on the waiting list call Cooley at the Recreation and Cultural Activities Department of Alexandria, 838-4838.
Arlington has 259 plots, but, again, all are filled for this year. These plots are run by the Arlington extension service. In case any open up during this season, horticultural technician Barbara Harris is taking names, call 558-2475.
Fairfax County has approximately 1,000 plots managed by the Fairfax County Park Authority. Call coordinator Mary Vipperman, 941-5000, ext. 288 to see what's available.
Carl Gagliardi, press secretary for the Prince George's County Executive says that they have just received permission to go ahead with a garden plots program, but as of yet nothing has been set up. A small fee will be charged to rent the plots. He asks that people leave their names and addresses with the Permits Division of the Department of Public Works at 952-4230.
Mary Wells of the Maryland National Capital Park and Planning Commission says that they run three garden sites in Prince George's County. The plots are 25-by-30-feet and cost $10. Some are still available at the Central Avenue site near Bowie. Call 699-2415.
The Montgomery County Recreation Department operates four sites, says area director Trudi Johnson: Wheaton, Germantown and two in Rockville. Their plots are 20-by-20-feet and cost $10 a year. Plots are still available, call 468-4203.
GROW is compiling a list of garden tillers who will plow for group gardens. Most gardeners don't own their own tiller and find it expensive to rent for one small plot. GROW is also accumulating a resource file to help consumers find manure, chips, and other supplies. To help property owners who want to rent their land, GROW will help arrange liability insurance.
GROW's lecture series will begin in April, covering such topics as insects, plant diseases, what to grow and when, solar greenhouses and energy conservation, perimeter farms and intensive gardening techniques.
Demonstration garden sites have also been set up again on the traffic circle near the National Air and Space Musuem (6th Street and Independence Avenue SW) and at the National Zoo. These sites are a cooperative project run jointly by the District of Columbia Extension Service and the Master Gardeners program.
The Master Gardeners program is a free eight-week course on gardening by extension service experts. Following an exam, students are required to provide 50 hours of service to the community as a horticultural volunteer. Call the Alexandria extension office for the next scheduled session, 838-4333.
GROW, a private, nonprofit and tax-exempt coaliton, is a continuation of a project run last year by the D.C. Extension Service. Agencies including the National Park Service, the local extension services, the D.C. Department of Recreation and the District Environmental Service are part of the GROW coalition. Membership is also open to individuals.
GROW is a special project of the Hunger Task Force of the Inter Faith Conference.