Prompted by a request from residents of densely populated Takoma Park, Md., for space to grow their own vegetables, Montgomery County, Md., began establishing community gardens last year. So far, the county has created four gardens and now has 300 gardeners growing crops.

Montgomery Parks Horticultural Services Chief David Vismara hired former seasonal horticulturist Ursula Sabia Sukinik in January 2009 to establish the program and manage it part-time. Takoma Park suggested the first garden site on an underused park area. By May 2009, county parks crews had set out 35 plots, ranging from 200 square feet to 400 square feet. Above-ground, elevated cisterns filled with water from a nearby fire hydrant were set up to irrigate crops. "This way, I can avoid the cost of installing water lines, which in some cases would cost over $40,000 per property," Sukinik says.

Most of the plots were leased to residents who live within one mile of the site. Gardeners are required to visit their plots weekly to weed and water, and Sukinik visits the garden at least once a month to ensure the plots are being maintained properly. Gardeners receive email updates monthly and can exchange ideas, tips and resources through an online community.

The parks department picked a 20-year-old community garden that had become unsightly and had security problems for its next site. "A lot of community gardens, if they are not properly maintained, can become an eyesore or are not as aesthetically pleasing as a botanical garden might be," Sukinik says. Parks crews cleaned up the garden, added more plots, installed deer fence and water cisterns, and leased the plots to new and returning gardeners.

A third garden was placed next to an elementary school, with a few plots allocated for the school children to manage. The most recent garden is being developed in the parking lot of an apartment complex. The parks department is setting out 2-foot-by-6-foot containers for residents to grow vegetables, herbs and flowers without clearing land.

With demand for the gardens increasing, Sukinik is evaluating more sites for 2011. "The fact that there is somebody overseeing the program and the access to water makes ours a very successful program," she says.

Project: Community gardens
Jurisdiction: Montgomery County, Md.
Agency: Montgomery Parks
Date began: February 2009
Cost: No budget allocated

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