Supporters of Community Gardens at Schools Point to Bradley Hills
Community garden on park property adjacent to elementary school is popular with community.
As the Montgomery County Council heard support Tuesday for community gardens at public schools, supporters pointed to the flourishing community garden near a Bethesda school– Bradley Hills Elementary.
Tuesday, the Council heard from schools officials who went over plans to partner with the Montgomery County Parks Department to look at starting community gardens on three Montgomery County Public Schools properties by spring 2011, though none of those sites house schools. The sites are at the Rocking Horse Center in Rockville, the Spring Mill Center in Silver Spring, and the Emory Center in Gaithersburg.
The Council also heard from supporters of gardens on school property who opposed what they called a ban on community gardens at public schools in the county, though schools officials denied there is a ban in place. However, Superintendent Jerry Weast has in past memos raised concerns about the gardens at schools, including how to deal with maintenance and unwanted pests.
Supporters said gardens at schools would promote healthy eating habits for children, as well as physical activity and environmental stewardship.
"Successful vegetable gardens are already flourishing in hundreds if not thousands of schools around the country," Gordon Clark, project director for Montgomery Victory Gardens, a proponent of gardens on school property, testified before Council Tuesday. "…Yet here in Montgomery County we appear to be taking only halting baby steps toward and overdue goal which most people consider a 'no-brainer.'"
From the council hearing room, proponents of gardens rattled packets of seeds glued to sticks to show their support. The county Commission on Health also testified before Council in support of gardens at schools.
A garden work group organized by MCPS is looking at developing guidelines for schools who want to start gardens and incorporate them into their educational programs, according to Sean Gallagher, assistant director for facilities management at MCPS. Gallagher said MCPS is addressing issues like who will maintain the gardens and how to deal with animals and pests the gardens might attract. Gallagher said the group has looked to the community garden at Bradley Local Park, adjacent to Bradley Hills Elementary School, to help guide them.
The Bradley Hills community garden is managed in partnership with the Montgomery County Parks Department, which administers the local park, and is already wildly popular. The school is participating in the garden project, and the MCPS garden work group toured the garden and interviewed the school's principal, Sandra Reece. The response from the community at Bradley Hills has been "phenomenal," said Ursula Sabia Sukinik, community garden coordinator for the parks department. 'We have a huge waiting list."
Residents can rent a 200 square-foot plot for $30 a year, Sukinik said. This year's harvest includes beans, squash, tomatoes, broccoli, and cucumber, to name just a few. "It might be easier to tell you what they don't grow," Sukinik said.
Bradley Hills provides an example that community gardens can work near school property, Clark said. "We already have a pilot project, and look how successful it is," he told Patch.
Community meetings are planned to solicit feedback on the proposed community garden sites on MCPS property. More information about the Parks Department community garden program is available here.