Strasburg Community Garden: A living outdoor classroom
STRASBURG – Alison Sloop and Nick Livesay, conservation specialists for the Lord Fairfax Soil & Water Conservation District, have undertaken the task of empowering Strasburg residents to educate themselves on locally grown, fresh produce through the grant-funded Strasburg Community Garden that’s opening this spring.
“Our goal is to stay culturally relevant and broaden the audience of urban agriculture in Strasburg,” Sloop said. “Through this community garden, we’re hoping to be able to do just that.”
Through a grant awarded by the National Association of Conservation Districts, the 5,200-square-foot community garden will provide 12 community plots, six handicap plots, four partner plots along with a rain garden, a pollinator garden and a compost and water station. The Strasburg garden project was one of 19 grants awarded nationwide in 2017.
In December the Lord Fairfax Soil and Water Conservation District held its un-groundbreaking for the community garden, which is located at the town park. Over 40 volunteers participated in the ceremony. Volunteers included master gardeners, FFA students, Boy Scouts and town Mayor Rich Orndorff. While the soil itself wasn’t tilled, Sloop said they wanted to show guests that it’s possible to have a garden without disrupting the soil. Through a method called sheet mulching, Sloop said they had an un-ground breaking.
“Our intention is to educate those who want to be involved through various educational projects with local gardeners, master gardeners and teachers,” Sloop said. Educational seminars will include recommendations on what grows best in the local environment, raised gardens and proper care for fresh produce.
“We’re in what the USDA considers a food desert,” Sloop said. “Which means, we live in a high density of low income families that are more than a mile away from a local supermarket and don’t have the access to always get there.”
Ninety percent of Strasburg is considered a food desert, she added.
“Our area is so rich in agriculture that it’s so surprising to me that there aren’t as many farmers’ markets or produce stands that people can buy from,” Sloop said. “For many it’s just a matter of location or means of travel.”
A major aspect of the grant features the best management practices for sustainability. Livesay called the garden a living outdoor classroom.
Sloop added, “By giving the tools and education through our workshops, people will realize that just because you live in town or you don’t have a big yard doesn’t mean you can’t grow your own food and be healthy.”
Understanding where food comes from, especially fresh produce, is a trend sweeping the nation, Livesay said.
Sloop and Livesay are activists for educating individuals on ways to grow chemical- and pesticide-free fresh produce.
“If I plant a seed, and I cared for it, then I’m happy,” Sloop said, noting there’s nothing better than going out to your own garden and knowing you grew what you’re eating.
Livesay added, “We want to help individuals realize they can reduce their dependence on packaged food.”
Through empowerment, Sloop and Lively say they hope Strasburg residents will understand the valuable tools the community garden will offer.
“Local food is a valuable asset in a growing community,” Livesay said. “I think that was the main reason our project did so well and we got the grant funds for the community – because we want to empower residents to become healthy through gardening.”
The community garden is only for Strasburg residents, but Sloop and Livesay say they hope through their success, other towns will pick up on the plan. Sloop noted she’s heard of community gardens popping up in Toms Brook, Woodstock and Clarke County.
Participating in the community garden is free, expect for a small rental fee.
“We ask that a small portion of items grown be donated to Restore Hope House Food Panty or Compassion Cupboard Food Pantry,” Livesay said.
Sloop added, “Hopefully we’ll create this movement coming out of Strasburg that will help communities connect the dots. We want to be at the front end for people who have questions or simply want to learn.”
Partners for this project include Strasburg United Methodist Church, St. Paul Lutheran Church, Strasburg Christian Church, Pot Town Organics, Strasburg Farmers Market, Restore Hope House Food Pantry and Compassion Cupboard Food Pantry.
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