For me, this past weekend was a tale of two urban vegetable gardens. My weekend excursions convinced me that we should be encouraging more local food production and consumption (locavorism) both in Arlington and throughout the nation.
On Saturday, I visited “Reevesland” in Arlington as part of a site visit by the county’s Urban Agriculture Task Force. Arlington County purchased the 2.47 acre property for $1.8 million in 2001 from the Nelson Reeves Estate, which includes the family house, a garage and the “milk barn.” Nelson Reeves originally owned a much larger area which comprised the last dairy farm in the county but later sold off much of that land for development.
On the grounds of Reevesland there is a small vegetable garden that has been adopted by the surrounding neighborhood and nearby Ashlawn Elementary School. Led by local activist Joan Horwitt, the garden has become a focal point for both the neighbors and the school with many hands pitching in to raise local food. Moreover, the garden has encouraged many of the surrounding landowners to convert their lawns to food gardens as well.
On Sunday, I took the White House Fall Garden Tour and saw the “White House Kitchen Garden” that was put in by First Lady Michelle Obama on March 20, 2009. In its first nine months, the Kitchen Garden yielded over a thousand pounds of produce. The facility appears to be thriving today, thanks in no small measure to the nearby beehive and the small army of workers (including school children) who tend to the garden.
The White House Grounds are the oldest continually maintained landscape in the United States. Interestingly, John Adams, the first president to occupy the White House, ordered the creation of a vegetable garden on the grounds, but his vision went unfulfilled after he left office in March 1801.
While the Reevesland Vegetable Garden and the White House Kitchen Garden share many similar characteristics, the three that seemed to me to be the most critical for success are land, leadership and learning.
While Arlington may have many leaders and numerous school children, replicating these successful urban vegetable gardens throughout the County will need a renewed county focus on land acquisition. After all, as Scarlett’s father tells her in the movie Gone with the Wind, land is “the only thing that lasts.”
Mike Nardolilli serves as President of the Northern Virginia Conservation Trust, President of the Arlington Outdoor Lab, and as a Member of the Board of Directors of the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority.