New community garden grows in Bragg Hill neighborhood

Fall is fast approaching, but baby scallions are growing on the Lopez family’s lot in the new community garden on Bragg Hill.

“We planted them as dry onions and didn’t think they would make it,” said Melissa Lopez.

Lopez inherited the property late in the season when the previous gardener moved away, and she and her family have reaped the harvest of late-season tomatoes and cucumbers and dreamed of the fresh Mexican herbs they can grow themselves next year.

“It’s something my family and I have wanted to do for a while because a lot of the plants we use in cooking — herbs that Hispanic culture really loves — aren’t commercially available,” said Lopez, 20, of Germanna- Graduate and student at the University of Mary Washington.

Next spring, she looks forward to growing chiltepins — small, very hot peppers native to Mexico that her mom will use to make “a hot sauce that you can eat with literally anything,” Lopez said.

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Like many in Fredericksburg, the Lopez family lives in an apartment complex, so they don’t have a back yard or space to plant a garden. The new community garden, which took root in June, is designed to allow residents of the Bragg Hill neighborhood and surrounding homes to garden.

The project is a joint effort of UMW, Fredericksburg City Parks and Recreation and Kingdom Family Worship Center and is made possible in part by a grant from the Rappahannock Area Community Foundation.

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“[UMW sociology professor Eric Bonds] approached us to partner to address food insecurity and try to engage underprivileged and mixed communities to understand the value of gardening and fresh vegetables,” said Joseph Henderson, Reverend at Family Worship Center.

Bonds said the idea for the garden and some of the funding were in place before the pandemic, but plans have stalled.

Bonds and Sarah Dewees, director of UMW’s Center for Community Engagement, wrote and received a $7,000 grant from the Community Foundation with help from Henderson and the Parks and Recreation Division — but post-pandemic inflation pushed up costs up.

City Manager Tim Baroody helped find a private donor this spring, who provided an additional $6,300 to make the garden possible, Bonds said.

The land at Cowan Boulevard and Wicklow Drive on which the garden sits is owned by the city and maintained by the Department of Parks and Recreation.

Mike Ward, assistant director of parks and recreation, said he selected the site as the site for a community garden about 10 years ago, around the time the city was building another community garden near Cossey Park.

“It was a big hit down there, and at the time we were asked to find community gardens all over town,” Ward said. “That was a place that I chose for this part of the city back then.”

Grants were used to buy fencing material to enclose the garden, but the city paid someone to install the fence and run water into the garden.

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“That’s the key to all of this,” Bonds said.

Bonds and his father built all the garden lots and Bonds was responsible for allocating lots to neighbors who have expressed an interest.

He also planted three plots outside the garden fence. The plan is to grow fresh produce there for anyone who wants it and doesn’t have the time to regularly tend a plot.

“There is a need here,” Bonds said. “People are looking for it.”

Henderson said the vision for the garden “is still evolving.”

“This year it was trial and error just to make it work as a pilot,” he said. “To let people know that there is a community garden and a sustainability plan in this part of town.”

Warren Johnson and his wife are the proud cultivators of two garden plots they tended on a recent Monday evening.

“The tomatoes and peppers are off the chain,” Johnson said. “We grow herbs so we can just peel them off and put them straight into the pot. I get my salads fresher than normal.”

Johnson and his wife, who moved to the area a few years ago, have a small balcony next to their apartment, but “you can only do a few things in one pot,” he said.

Recent health issues have prompted the couple to adopt a healthier, more sustainable diet, and when they found out about the community garden, they considered it a blessing.

“That’s how I find peace,” Johnson said. “Put my hands in the ground – it’s been a long time since I’ve done that and it feels really good to be able to do that.”

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The garden has also helped the couple get to know their neighbors.

“The community thing is really nice,” Johnson said. “I didn’t know anyone here, but now I’ve met the other gardeners. They give gardening tips. They give you all the extra food they harvested. And I learned about new plants – tomatillos and things that other people grow.”

Nearby, Ahmad Omarzai grows coriander and five different varieties of mint, which he says his family will use to make Afghan sauces and chutneys.

He and his family immigrated to Fredericksburg from Afghanistan in 2015. In his native village there was a lot of land and space for agriculture.

“This is the first time I have a place to grow something,” Omarzai said.

Lopez said that on her first day in the garden, Omarzai helped show her the best way to plant her spring onions.

“Even though we’re complete strangers, we immediately felt like he could help us and we appreciate that,” she said. “Gardeners treat each other like family. Each takes care of each other’s properties as their own. It’s a beautiful thing to see. A community garden is just that: a community.”

Adele Uphaus-Conner:


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