By Aiesha Solomon

Laurel Community Garden at  Laurel Presbyterian Church celebrated its 10th birthday on Aug. 5.

An estimated 67 guests, including Mayor Craig Moe, former councilmember Fred Smalls and Bill Bailey, the director of the city’s Department of Parks and Recreation, enjoyed cake and numerous activities, including a game of I Spy Vegetables during the festivities.

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Makina Tiayon plays the I Spy Vegetable game during the Community Garden’s birthday celebration
Courtesy of Shanna B. Tiayon

“The idea was to give them sort of a purpose for walking around the garden,” said Valerie Groff, garden president. “We had the 12 plants, not all in one spot, but throughout the garden so that people would walk past other interesting things as they went.”

Guests also got to see the garden’s new signs.

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A new sign at the Community Garden
Photo Credit: Aiesha Solomon

“We’ve never had a sign at the garden before, and we were able to get a sign,” Groff said. “We also got a second sign made, which is kind of a commemorative thank you sign, A ‘thank you’ to all the people that both helped start the garden as well as have helped [it] continue literally to grow.”

Dawn Williams launched the garden in 2011 with Smalls’ support.

“I said, ‘Councilman Smalls, I always wanted to have an urban farm of my own. I love the outdoors, and I just, I’ve always wanted to do that.’” Williams said. “And during the course of our conversation, he said, … ‘I’ll help you. I’ll help you to create a community garden here in Laurel.’”

Smalls created a plan for the garden with input from staff at the University of Maryland Extension Master Gardener Program, then proposed the project to the city council. Interested residents worked with the city to find a site for the garden. 

“I went to several properties with the city of Laurel, the mayor and the city councilman and folks on their staff to look at these different sites. We looked at about three or four and we came up with the current site that we have now, behind the Laurel Presbyterian Church,” Williams said. “That was absolutely perfect. It was flat. It didn’t have any trees. They were more than willing to donate the land for the purposes of the community garden. They were amazing to work with.”

The city’s Department of Parks and Recreation  prepared the site and hired a plumber to connect a water line for the garden.

“We’re just there for them. Whatever they need, we’re happy to assist with them,” Bailey said. 

The garden opened in 2013. The Department of Parks and Recreation handles registration for garden plots, according to Bailey. The garden has 46 plots; all have been sold out since 2021.

“After an initial $100 ‘entrance fee’ for the first year of membership, annual plot fees range in price from $50-$65 depending on the plot size. Discounts are given for those who are Laurel City residents, Laurel Presbyterian Church members, Senior Citizens and/or Military.” Groff wrote in an email. 

The garden not only survived the pandemic; it thrived.

“I’m so glad we had so many years under our belts before the pandemic came. The city worked very, very closely with the garden and our garden volunteer leadership to help us to determine what the safest parameters were, in terms of actually working in your garden plot during the pandemic,” Williams said. 

Gardeners had to follow strict protocols, such as not having more than 10 people in the garden at any one time, maintaining social distancing, wearing clean gloves and not sharing tools, according to Williams. 

“On the other hand, it was one of the best places to be, because outdoors was the safest place, and you could still get…what I call therapy, that only an outdoor environment and garden and putting your hands in the soil can give you,” Williams said.

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Makina Tiayon plays the “Fruit or Vegetable?” activity during the Community Garden anniversary festivities.
Courtesy of Shanna B. Tiayon

In addition to paying plot fees, gardeners have to complete six community service hours per growing season, Groff said.

“Things like mowing paths between plots, weedwhacking the fence and compost bins, weeding the LARS [Laurel Advocacy and Referral Services] plot or pollinator plots, picking and delivering produce from the LARS plot, etc.,” wrote Groff in an email.

LARShas a plot for raising produce for its food pantry, Groff wrote. With this donation system in place, the garden committee has a goal each year.

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Visitors enjoy the festivities at the Community Garden’s party.
Courtesy of Shanna B. Tiayon

“In 2022, we’ve donated 371 pounds. I’m going to say we are very close to that already this year and we have a goal of 1000 pounds,” Groff wrote. In an update, Groff said that the garden is near 500 pounds of donated produce to LARS. 

The garden committee has its eyes on the future, too.

“We will continue to further refine our plant varieties and support structures in the LARS plot with an aim to produce more food to donate,” Groff wrote. “We hope to build more teams to take care of specific areas and needs of the garden, such as composting and communications. These teams also further the sense of community amongst the gardeners.”