From left, Beth Countryman, coordinator, Sarah Lopez, city community revitalization project manager Sarah Lopez and Brian Lewis, executive director of Operations with Arlington Public Schools view a patch of grassy land at N. French Avenue and E 3rd Street that will be transformed into a community garden.

From left, Beth Countryman, coordinator, Sarah Lopez, city community revitalization project manager Sarah Lopez and Brian Lewis, executive director of Operations with Arlington Public Schools view a patch of grassy land at N. French Avenue and E 3rd Street that will be transformed into a community garden.

City, school district pitch in together to create community garden

ARLINGTON – For the past 16 years, the city’s community garden across from the Arlington Public Library has done more than provide a bountiful source of fruits and vegetables.

The garden has provided educational opportunities, built social ties and partnerships, and contributed to a greater feeling of community.

Those traits are taking root now in a different way.

As the city prepares to sell the existing community garden property at 138 N. Washington Ave., Arlington Public Schools has offered a prize patch of slightly larger green space just a few blocks away.

The school board has already approved an agreement to allot a portion of the property at 505 E. Third Street near the district headquarters and Presidents Elementary for a community garden to be managed by the city using volunteers. The agreement will be on Monday’s city council agenda for action.

City officials envision a garden with more than 31 raised beds, dedicated space for school gardens and the food bank, and another section for larger plants such as berries and fruit.

This is an opportunity to showcase the benefits of growing food, and will provide urban residents with space to do so in a park-like setting that is open to the public. Other amenities could include a central shaded pergola, benches, flower beds, compost containers, a utility shed, interpretive educational signage and some fencing.

“The community garden has been a successful program managed by volunteers over the past 16 years,” Community Revitalization Manager Sarah Lopez said. Community members will be able to rent raised garden plots for a season and are encouraged to give excess produce to the food bank.

For its share, the city will build raised planter boxes, provide materials and equipment to build the community garden, provide and pay for water, and manage operations and maintenance for the overall park aside from growers who will tend their own beds.

For volunteers like community garden coordinator Beth Countryman, the relocation is bittersweet.

“We always knew there was that chance that the property would sell, but at the same time, we were shocked when it became a reality,” Countryman said. “We were grateful for the time we had there. When we saw how hard the city worked to relocate the garden, it did remove our shock and give us something to look forward to.”

The existing community garden partnered with the library to set aside a couple of plots for children to grow vegetable, tied into a theme in the summer reading program. Local senior citizens often made the garden a regular stop on their walks, and chatted with the green thumbs, some of them novice growers.

“It’s not just about growing produce,” Countryman said. “It’s about growing community around the gardens.”

Countryman said she is especially grateful that community garden will remain in Old Town.

School Board President Jeff Huleatt lauded working together on the project with the city.

“With partnerships like this, anything we can do to help each other out is a good thing for the community,” he said.

Supporters are hopeful that Presidents Elementary might create a programs that gets kids out into the garden to get their hands dirty and work the land.

Eagle Creek Elementary students developed a community garden last year, helped by an Arlington Education Association mini-grant that paid for a greenhouse, seed and top soil. Over the summer, summer camp students and staff watched the garden grow, producing a bounty of vegetables that students were able to take home.

The parties hope to have the garden ready for planting next spring.

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