Interest in gardening is on the rise, from my neighbors growing tomatoes in patio containers to community gardens bursting with multiple produce plots. Increasingly there’s a practical need to provide access to affordable food through growing your own. Early this week I attended an intimate event honoring a local community gardening hero. It was by far one of the more inspiring evenings I’ve spent in a while, whose honoree proves that persistence to a simple idea and dedication to helping others can result in good for all.
For the past three years, Woodbridge by Robert Mondavi has supported Giving Through Growing, a partnership program with the American Community Gardening Association (ACGA). This year they’ve awarded $40,000 to four community gardening ‘Heroes’ who made the grade in a nationwide contest, and Arlington’s Alison Kindler of the Fort Barnard Community Garden is one. Top Chef alum Candice Kumai is the GTG ambassador, and she was also on hand to salute Kindler’s efforts to enrich our community through growing fresh food for urban families. Fort Barnard has been in operation since 1975 – they even have their own bee hives! The garden works closely with the Arlington Food Assistance Center (AFAC), which helps provide groceries to families in need. Some 8% of Arlingtonians live below the poverty line and the percentage is increasing – AFAC distributes to over 1,200 families each week. Fort Barnard dedicates one of their garden plots exclusively to AFAC.
Kindler started gardening at Fort Barnard some twenty years ago, with a plot as a Father’s Day present for her husband. “Here, honey, you can go play in the dirt,” she quipped, but her main motivation at the time was really to grow organic produce and be able to put “healthy, safe food on the table.”
Winning the GTG grant will enable Kindler to help better organize the AFAC plot as they continue utilizing the square footage gardening method, expanding the raised beds, installing a drip water system with a timer so the volunteers can more easily work on their own plots in tandem, and develop better composting. Listening to the obviously passionate Kindler detail her plans inspired me to learn more about community gardening in my neighborhood. For Arlingtonians, Fort Barnard is definitely popular – though about seven plots open up each year, there’s a two year waiting list.
GTG ambassador Candice Kumai noted that the importance of access to farm fresh foods is both healthy for the individual and helpful to communities. Kumai is an enthusiastic advocate of farm-to-table eating habits and how they can bring communities back together in a strong communal spirit – echoing the principles of the late Robert Mondavi. As host of Lifetime’s Cook Yourself Thin and author of the cookbook Pretty Delicious, she’s also proof that eating healthily can give you a gorgeous glow!
Zola Wine & Kitchen was the setting for the event, serving up seasonal delicacies like lavender grilled scallops (prompting a discussion with Washington Gardener‘s knowledgeable editor Kathy Jentz about a local lavender farm that sounds like a must visit) and lamb chops with a pecan and currant relish. All locally sourced, of course. Woodbridge by Robert Mondavi supplied the wine, offering their pinot grigio, cabernet sauvignon, and sparkling wine. It was all very relaxed and conducive to conversation, and I came away convinced I need to cultivate more gardening in my life, and certainly more community outreach.
Taking control of one’s own food source through organic gardening was once seen as a little eccentric. Now with an ever more uncertain economy and many in dire need, it’s become a real practicality. Local ‘Heroes’ like Alison Kindler are proof of that, and a true inspiration.