Community Gardens Prove Beneficial Trend for Economic Downturn
PRINCESS ANNE, MD-Community gardens have numerous benefits from the production of fresh vegetables that promote a healthy diet to increased exercise to an enhanced sense of community. The University of Maryland Eastern Shore understands the importance of community gardens, especially in times of economic hardship.
The Department of Agriculture, Food and Resource Sciences in collaboration with the Maryland Cooperative Extension and the Maryland Eastern Shore Resource Conservation and Development Council has created a community garden for demonstration on the university s farm.
According to Corrie Cotton, research assistant professor at UMES and project manager, the primary purpose of the garden is to demonstrate how a vacant piece of land can be utilized to grow fruits and vegetables for multiple families; however, there are additional advantages. The benefits of community gardening are far greater than just the food produced. Community gardening gives people the opportunity to socialize and gain a sense of pride and appreciation for their local community, said Cotton.
UMES students participating in summer internships are responsible for the care, maintenance and harvesting; each student has taken responsibility for a 10 by 10 foot plot. The students are learning how to start plants from seed, as well as, how to transplant vegetables that have been started in a greenhouse. Interestingly, only four of the five students are agriculture majors, showing that a little know-how and some dedication can produce food for the dinner table well into the fall for even the novice gardener.
Although construction management is my major, working with plant science researchers at UMES has been an interesting and fun experience. I can say that this internship experience has made me proficient in cultivation of all types of crops, said Princewill Achimuagole, UMES summer student intern.
The students selected the plants for their own plots. Squash, kale, cantaloupe, watermelon, cucumbers, peppers, tomatoes and corn are currently growing in the garden. While the garden is not organic, it is free of pesticides and herbicides. Zinnias and coneflowers that attract bees, butterflies and other beneficial insects line the perimeter. Three non-chemical weed management options are being demonstrated: black plastic, straw and newspaper with straw on top. Students will keep harvest data as to the number of vegetables produced on each plot.
While participating students will be taking home some of the harvest for consumption, excess harvest will be donated to local food banks and organizations that help to feed the hungry. According to Laura Hunsberger, director, Worcester County Extension, certain varieties of tomato plants can produce 26 to 37 tomatoes in one season, more than most college students will eat in a summer!
If you are a member of a group who would like to initiate a community garden, contact Corrie Cotton at 410-651-6630 for information on establishing your own plots and to arrange a tour of the demonstration garden. The Maryland Cooperative Extension hosts the website Grow It Eat It (http://growit.umd.edu/), which provides resources for Maryland community and backyard gardeners, especially beginners.
The demonstration garden will also be featured during the UMES Ag Field Day, slated for September 12.
Courtney Harned, agriculture communications, 410-621-3850, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Gail Stephens, assistant director, UMES Office of Public Relations, 410-651-7580, email@example.com.