COMMUNITY • BY ALEX HOLT
The idea for a youth garden in Takoma Park came quite suddenly. Kay Daniels-Cohen was in the middle of a conversation when it flashed into her head.
“I was talking to someone and it went POW!, into my brain”, said Daniels-Cohen, then a Takoma Park Recreation Committee member, currently Ward 3 city councilmember.
It was 2009, Barack Obama was less than a year into his first term as President and Michelle Obama had just set up a youth garden at the White House. Daniels-Cohen wondered why she couldn’t do the same thing right here in Takoma Park and give kids a better sense of where the food they eat actually comes from.
Kay Daniels-Cohen, who started the Takoma Park’s youth garden project.
She looked at a couple of places near the Community Center on Maple Avenue, since many children lived and attended school in the area. After continually lobbying the City Council and City-Manager for permission to start the garden on city property, she finally received it in the spring of 2011, along with a $1,000 grant from the Takoma Foundation. Even then, fellow Recreation Committee member Howard Kohn, said, the original conditions for the garden were far from optimal.
“That soil…no, you wouldn’t call it soil, it was just chunks of concrete and other debris and some clay mixed in with a lot of gravel and leftover construction stuff”, Kohn said.
But in the span of about three or four days, with the help of some of the other Recreation Committee members and some assistance from Daniels-Cohen’s longtime friend, lawn care specialist Bill Patton and local businesses Behnke Nurseries and Ace Hardware, the site was completely dug out and planting began.
The youth garden at the Takoma Park city library location.
Two years in, the Takoma Park Youth Garden is thriving and actually consists of three separate gardens, one located above the police station at the Takoma Park Community Center, one located right next to the station and a newer garden next to the library.
Daniels-Cohen’s health prevents her from coming out to the garden as often as she would like but other people have stepped up to take her place, including Kohn and Annie Mozer, a first grade teacher at Sheridan School in Washington, D.C. and a self-described “garden enthusiast”.
Mozer’s been instrumental, teaching the kids who help out with the garden about the importance of adding worms to the soil, taking care of the garden’s compost pile and especially creating soil.
“We’ve been using natural amendments for the soil”, Mozer said. “We added manure, leaf mulch and some good soil we have from the other bed down by the police station and mixed that in and then created this compost pile.”
That compost pile is an eclectic mixture of material such as yard waste, water, wood ashes, manure, dry grass left over from other city-owned gardens and kitchen waste. Mozer said she also sees the Youth Garden as an opportunity to teach larger lessons about life.
“I believe that at the threshold of a garden, the playing field is leveled”, Mozer said. “No matter your profession, age, ability, or other distinction in life, you are on equal ground in a garden; everyone makes a contribution tending and nurturing the soil to grow food for yourself and for other living beings.”
The people who work on the Youth Garden, also say it’s important as a way to bring friends, families and the larger community together. About 10 to 15 people show up at any given time to work on the garden, including kids on their way home from school and numerous families.
One of the parents most active in the garden is Vineda Myers, the President of the Piney Branch PTA, who first started helping out soon after the garden opened. Myers, who lives in a Takoma Park apartment and had never gardened before, helps with the planting and harvesting for the garden whenever there’s food growing. She said the involvement of families is crucial for the garden.
“It’s vital,” Myers said. “Without them, there’d be no point. There wouldn’t be any garden at all. One of the reasons why it was created was to help bring families and the community together and allow us more opportunity to spend time together and get to know each other, people from different backgrounds working together, doing something that’s fun and important.”