The Greenbelt City Council is working to see the forest for the peas ... as well as tomatoes, carrots and other vegetables grown in the city’s community gardens.
When Greenbelt was founded in 1937, several community gardens were created in the city’s wooded areas. The city currently has three community gardens at Henry’s Hollow, located on Hamilton Place; Hamilton Garden, located at the end of Hamilton Place; and Gardenway, located along a walking path off the road of the same name.
“The issue has become over time, how do you manage a garden area that’s within a forest?” said Celia Craze, Greenbelt director of planning and community development.
City officials are proposing the creation of an eight-foot maintenance “buffer zone” between the community gardens and the forest, but have delayed any decisions about the actual boundaries of the gardens, trees to be removed and garden access areas — issues that have pitted gardeners against preservationists.
“It’s February and if the gardeners are to get started, we really need to decide what we can do and have these larger discussions at a later point,” Greenbelt Mayor Emmett Jordan said during a Feb. 18 work session.
One of the major issues of contention, Craze said, is deciding on the actual boundaries for the community garden. The board recommended declaring the community garden fences as the official boundaries, but garden club members say much of the gardens’ original territory has been lost to the forest, and the fences are not an accurate marker for community garden boundaries.
Martha Tomecek, president of the Community Garden Club, said she became a community gardener in 2000, the last year the community gardens were plowed and all the fences were taken down.
“In 2001, everybody put their fences up, and that for the most part are the fences that we have now,” Tomecek said. “We didn’t talk about boundaries. We just kind of guessed where they’d been.”
Community gardener Richard Olson said gardeners have moved the fences inward as the forest has encroached upon the gardens due to lack of maintenance in the surrounding areas.
“We’re talking about trees needing to be preserved and we’re losing gardens,” Olson said.
In 2003, the city created the Forest Preserve Advisory Board to advise the city on the maintenance of the city’s forests.
Councilman Rodney Roberts asked if the council could make any maintenance decision without determining the boundaries, based on the city’s own rules for forest preservation.
“Unless we know what the limits of the garden are, we cannot make intelligent decisions as to the buffer,” Roberts said. “This is a protected area. Even the city can’t go in and do whatever. We have to abide by our own laws.”
Greenbelt resident Brian Almquist asked the council to accept the board’s recommendation of making the fences the boundary.
“The citizens of Greenbelt do not have to lose precious wooded area and wildlife habitat to appease special interest groups,” Almquist said. “If the GCGC wants additional space, perhaps it should work with them to identify additional space in Greenbelt that are more suitable for gardens.”