By Brittany Nassef
“Sometimes I feel like an archaeologist,” sophomore Colleen Brooke said.
Digging in the dirt and playing with worms is all in a days work for those who help out with the community garden downtown.
Started last year by Brooke and Karl Gergel, both sophomores, the Students for a
Democratic Society’s community garden is blossoming.
“We expanded the garden by a third, added a flower bed, and a second compost bin,” Brooke said.
Last year, the community garden held carrots, habanera peppers, arugula, and even broccoli.
“They broke ground February 19 for a new season of gardening. SDS began the garden and the members care for it,” junior Desirée De Haven said.
On April 5, SDS and UMW’s Ecology Club had a joint picnic where students and members of the Fredericksburg community planted lettuce, mint, chives, cilantro, snap peas, melons, squash and lemon bee balm.
“We enjoyed a great potluck feast and we planted herbs, beans, melons, peas, and some other crops after we ate. I know I had an amazing time and it was great to finally visit it and get involved,” De Haven said.
Neither Brooke nor Gergel have put any money into the garden. Donations from the Pennsylvania Dutch Tea and Spice Company, both of their parents, and being frugal with supplies allowed them to work the garden without spending a dime.
Everything that they’ve needed was in close proximity to the garden, even the water, which they get from the nearby cemetary.
SDS came across the empty plot of land after squatting on an abandoned lot across the street.
“The rights to the property are a complicated situation, apparently,” said senior Laura Pilati. “They are owned by the same person who owns the Kenmore property, but that property is uninhabited…so Karl and Colleen have been unable to figure out, as of yet, who to contact about it.”
According to Gergel, the lot was abandoned for six or seven years and was very grown over.
“It was unused, so we might as well use it,” he said. “Growing vegetables and flowers and cleaning is positive for the community.”
Their “guerilla gardening” is good for the neighborhood. Not only is it a learning experience for the gardeners, but it helps unite the students and community members.
“It’s also great how the neighbors have been so supportive,” junior Carly Byers said. “An elderly lady from down the street stopped by last week and chatted with Colleen and I for ten minutes or so.
“Getting to talk to someone with a perspective different from that of an eighteen to twenty-two year old made my day and helped remind me that even though we feel isolated on campus we can still be connected to the Fredericksburg community,” she said.
Brooke and Gergel said they visit the garden almost everyday and spend five to six hours working there, along with other volunteers, every week.
“I think it is a great opportunity for students to learn first hand about growing things while creating something that everyone can enjoy,” Byers said. “Being able to spend a few hours weeding or planting out in the sun is one of my favorite parts of the week.”
The diligent few who work the garden will reap its benefits of fresh produce in the coming months.
“Honestly, this has inspired me to be a farmer,” Brooke said. “ It’s the only way to live.”
In the midst of the brick border, with a great wall of snap peas, and nutrient-rich soil, Brooke believes that the community garden is “a little piece of heaven.”