Field School 2017

 

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Mason student Kirsten Bongiovanni (center) helps prep a new garden plot at the Lang Street Garden as part of the 2017 field school.

 

The Field School has been progressing nicely–the students have interviewed about 35% of the 70 gardeners at Lang Street Garden–it’s been fun, intensive and exhausting.

One of the fun parts of working with community gardens is the distinct opportunities for participant-observation research. Some of the students have “dug in” to the experience by helping gardeners haul mulch, sift dirt to remove weeds and their pesky roots, or in the case Kirsten Bongiovanni (above), had helped clear a plot of a new gardener.

Reading through the field notes and listening to the interviews, I find it remarkable that this group of advanced undergraduate and graduate students have transformed into independent researchers. They’re asking uninsightful questions, documenting astute observations and providing a deep analysis of a community project that is so much more than a place to grow vegetables. The community garden is a shared experience that brings Arlingtonians together for a shared purpose. It’s the location of community engagement and connection.

On Tuesday (June 20) students will present their findings to the gardeners and the general public at the Fairlington Community Center at 4:30.  I look forward to meeting the gardeners I’ve been reading about, and the lively discussion that will follow.

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Arlington Community Gardens

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Last weekend I began fieldwork for the Summer 2016 Field School. I’m back along the Columbia Pike, this time studying community gardens along Four Mile Run and Douglas Park.

The project stretches me in new and exciting ways. I’m an avid “urban farmer”–I cleared the azaleas alongside my house to create three 8X10 garden beds. The azaleas were beautiful, but they had the best sun on our otherwise wooded lot. The community gardens are county-owned properties that are leased to residents who don’t have space or availability to grow fruits and vegetables near their own homes. But I’ve never considered the impact of community gardens on food security and sustainability from an academic perspective. I plan to spend spring break reading up on the academic literature on community gardens.

The growing season for hearty spring and root vegetables begins on March 1 in Northern Virginia, so gardeners got together for a recipe and seed swap on February 27. I was shocked by the number of people who showed up–nearly forty people in all. The chief gardener, Maraea Harris, reviewed rules for the gardens and important dates. I also met nearly 20 gardeners who are interested in participating in the project. That’s a fantastic number of people to have on board so early in the process.

I’ll be talking to gardeners and visiting the garden plots periodically between now and the official start of the field school in mid-May. I’m extremely pleased to be offering the field school again this year and to be back in Arlington County for the project.