Three school system sites identified for Community Garden program
Veggie patch proponents still want gardens on school grounds
Seeds could be sowed in community gardens on Montgomery County Public Schools property as early as next spring, if plans by the school system and the county parks department are approved this fall.
The Montgomery County Department of Parks has identified three school-owned sites that could be used to grow community vegetable gardens. The school system and the parks department have been working to evaluate six school properties as potential sites for vegetable gardens to meet mounting parent and teacher demands for the gardens that the district has forbidden.
Superintendent Jerry D. Weast in February denied requests for vegetable gardens at schools, reasoning that food gardens could attract insects, create problems for students with allergies and add to maintenance work.
The school system and parks representatives declined to identify the sites being vetted for vegetables. The parks department's recommendations will be presented at a public meeting in late September or early October, said David Vismara, chief of horticultural services for the parks department.
Proponents of vegetable gardens at schools argue that teachers will not easily be able to bring their classes to off-site gardens. Vismara said one site is across a street from a school and another is within three blocks of a school; other potential garden sites are less accessible.
"It's not the best scenario for people who want gardens right at the schools, but it's a start," Vismara said. "And it's a start in the right direction."
Vismara said the three sites range in size from about ¾ of an acre to 1 acre in size.
As part of the county's community garden program, the parks department would take on daily management of the gardens, which has been among the reservations school officials have about the vegetable gardens.
"You have champions for these types of projects that can get them developed and going, but typically their children will matriculate to the next school and it's up to the school to find additional champions that want to take them on. And over time, we've found that's the biggest challenge," said Sean Gallagher, assistant director of facilities management for the school system. "It becomes a liability."
Gordon Clark, project director for Montgomery Victory Gardens, said he and parent proponents of the gardens are pleased with the school system's pursuit of vegetable garden locations, but that they will still push to have the gardens at school buildings.
"The ban is wrong, period," Clark said. "It needs to go away."
Clark said the priority right now is just getting the gardens, period. They are not pushing for the food to be used in cafeterias because they know there are strict rules about where cafeterias get their food. Also, the amount of food that could be grown in these small gardens would be not be able to make a significant contribution to cafeterias. A potential educational use in the future could be cooking classes, he said.
If the parks department's site proposal goes well at a public meeting this fall, the department hopes to be able to plant in the spring.