From garden to table, Whitman student plants vegetable garden for homeless women -- Gazette.Net







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It was a simple meal — roast chicken, rice and a salad — but the women who prepared it made it special with the addition of their own garden-grown herbs and vegetables.

The chicken became roast chicken with rosemary, the rice was enhanced with herbs and vegetables, and the lettuce, tomatoes and cucumbers for the salad were all freshly picked.

The dinner, held Aug. 21, was a celebration of the Garden of Hope planted at Betty’s House, a transitional home run by the National Center for Children and Families for women who are survivors of domestic violence and their children.

The garden was the idea of Christina Esposito, 16, a senior at Walt Whitman High School in Bethesda.

“This is part of my Girl Scout Gold Award project,” Esposito said. “I wanted to do something local and I came up with the idea to plant a garden somewhere where they didn’t have the opportunity to have one.”

The Gold Award for Girl Scouts is the equivalent of the Eagle Scout award for Boy Scouts, said Esposito, who is a member of Troop 5994 in Bethesda. The final project needs be one that requires at least 80 hours of work and is sustainable.

“In a month or so, when it gets colder, I’ll come back and put the garden to bed for the winter,” she said. “I have a binder of notes telling [the residents] how to restart it in the spring.”

After securing permission from the national center to work at Betty’s House, Esposito was invited to a house meeting to share her plan with the home’s four residents.

“I was excited,” said Hadja, one of the residents who did not share her last name to protect her identity. “At home [in Guinea] we eat from our own garden. We don’t go to the market.”

Esposito said it took a lot of people to get the garden going. Her neighbor Kate Kern, a master gardener, helped her with the plan and American Plant in Bethesda, where she works as a part-time cashier, donated soil and the vegetable plants. Irwin Stone donated the stepping stones and Esposito got a free compost bin from Montgomery County.

The small plot, in the southwest corner of the yard where the sun shines most of the day, is filled with tomato plants, sweet and jalapeno peppers, cucumbers, green beans, carrots, parsley, parcel — also known as leaf celery — and rosemary. It represents almost 80 hours of work, Esposito said, and more if the hours of help she received from Betty’s House residents are added.

“We worked together,” Hadja said. “I was really happy and the kids are very excited about the garden.”

Hadja said she was especially excited about the rosemary, an herb she never knew about before Esposito added it to the garden.

“We don’t have rosemary” in Guinea, she said. “Now I use it when I cook soup or vegetables. I love the smell of it.”

One unexpected bonus from the garden project for Esposito was learning about the women and their lives, she said.

“I felt very sheltered” prior to this, she said. “Working with [the national center] and Betty’s House was very interesting. I was exposed to different cultures and the women.”

Myrna Moses, director of transitional housing services for the national center, said she thought the Garden of Hope was a great idea.

“It does a lot for the women and extends our resources because [the women] are able to grow herbs and vegetables to use at the house,” Moses said.

She was at the celebratory dinner and said it was excellent.

“It was much better than I expected because they really wanted to showcase what they grew,” Moses said.