Life & Times Locavore: Creativity and connection — community gardens in Hyattsville
BY IMKE AHLF-WIEN
The Hyatt Park Community Garden is a lush oasis nestled amidst the urban hubbub of Hamilton Street and the comings and goings at the Bestway Supermarket, right across the road. For years, I’ve been impressed by the variety of vegetables and flowers grown here.
According to its website, the Hyatt Park Community Garden was founded in 2011 on land that housed the since-demolished Jack and Jill Day Nursery. After the land was purchased by the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission, the City of Hyattsville has been allowed to use the entire property for a community park, and has added a playground and picnic area.
According to Katie Ablard, one of the garden’s current volunteer co-leads, the membership-based Hyatt Park Community Garden consists of about 32 plots, each 15 by 15 feet. Several members have been around since the early days, but five to 10 plots usually open up each year to those on the waitlist.
Ablard shows me around the garden on a cloudy early-September evening. She radiates a passion for gardening that is deeply inspiring. Her plot, like many others, is filled with both produce and flowers. The bright orange zinnias don’t only look beautiful, they also attract pollinators to fertilize the plants.
Gardening is a form of relaxation that helps her enter a flow state and forget time, says Ablard, who spends up to four hours a week at her plot. She adds that nurturing a plant is so satisfying and emphasizes that being part of a community garden lets you meet people who share your passion.
The many different cultural backgrounds of members currently gardening at Hyatts Park makes for a striking diversity of produce, such as the purple hyacinth bean grown by Raja N. that is more commonly known in India. This diversity is highlighted when we talk to Riccardo C., who has stopped by his plot to pick produce for dinner. Like Ablard, he’s been a member since 2011, and gardening seems second nature to him. His crops this year include eggplants, tomatoes, sunchokes (which inspired the recipe below), the Italian variety tromboncino squash, and the tiny Mexican sour gherkin. Here, you can grow vegetables that are hard to find in grocery stores or farmers markets.
There’s a long history of community gardens in the U.S. According to the Smithsonian Gardens’ website, the first “vacant lot gardens” were established in Detroit, in the 1890s, as a response to an economic recession. Educational school gardens — such as the one located at Hyattsville Elementary School — soon followed in many U.S. cities, especially in neighborhoods with large immigrant and lower-income populations. In 1917, when the U.S. entered World War I, “a need for food … became the primary motivation for cultivating community gardens,” known as “liberty gardens” or “war gardens.” Some readers may remember the “victory gardens” of the 1940s that were strongly supported by the U.S. government due to the “health, recreational, and morale-boosting effects of gardening,” after the nation entered World War II.
If you are interested in joining the Hyatt Park Community Garden, visit its website, hyattparkcommunitygarden.com. There’s a $30 annual fee and a requirement of four service hours a year. Use the QR code below to join the waitlist directly. As of press time, the waitlist stood at about seven people, according to Ablard.
Hyattsville also has another community garden in the making — at Heurich Park in West Hyattsville. Colin Morrison, the city’s former environmental coordinator, explained that it will have a total of about 16 plots, some of which will be wheelchair accessible. It will open some time in 2024, according to Dawn Taft, the city’s environmental programs manager. Cindy Zork, Hyattsville’s communications manager, recommended signing up for city updates at hyattsville.org/1031/City-Communications.
Smashed sunchokes (serves 4)
Sunchokes (or Jerusalem artichokes) are related to sunflowers and native to the U.S. They are high in inulin, a prebiotic fiber which is beneficial for a healthy gut microbiome. To reduce its gas-causing effects, add lemon juice to the water when cooking. Sunchokes are sold in the fall at local farmers markets and occasionally at grocery stores.
- 1 pound sunchokes, rinsed and trimmed
- juice of ½ lemon
- 1 tablespoon sea salt
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1 tablespoon dried thyme
Place the sunchokes in a medium saucepan and cover with water; add lemon juice and salt. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 12 to15 minutes until softened. Drain the sunchokes, and let them cool for 5 minutes. Preheat the oven to 450 F. Move the sunchokes to a baking sheet lined with parchment paper, and smash carefully with a fork. Place the baking sheet in the oven and roast for 10 to 15 minutes until crispy. Melt the butter in a saucepan over medium heat. When it starts to brown, add the thyme, stir for a few seconds, and then remove from heat. Drizzle the herbed butter on top, and serve immediately.
Imke Ahlf-Wien is a nutrition educator with a passion for fresh, locally procured foods.
Several Hyatt Park Community Garden members requested that only their first name and last initial be used in this column.