Sunday story: Garden of gifts –


Over the past decade, Mark Lewis and Tracy Citeroni’s ‘Bountiful Garden’ has become a staple in their Woodland Heights neighborhood, fostering a sense of community and allowing those passing by to make their choice of vegetables and fruits. ‘fresh herbs.

Gardening played a big part in both of their childhoods, and it seemed natural to them to carry on the tradition, they say. Citeroni’s father planted a large garden every year, and Lewis’s grandfather cultivated his own “bountiful garden”.

“[My grandfather] was always very generous with his produce and produced enough for his family and neighbors, ”says Lewis. “Growing up in a rural area is kind of what you do to take care of the community. “

Citeroni has fond memories of planting, harvesting and cooking the produce from her home garden, which has led her to plant her own gardens wherever she lived as an adult, even if it didn’t mean than a few potted tomato and basil plants in an apartment, she said.

His love for gardening also flowed into his work as a sociology professor at the University of Mary Washington.

“Over the past 15 years or so, this family history began to merge with my commitment to social justice and my career as a sociologist, and I began to study food justice and explore its academic and activist manifestations. “, she says. “When Mark and I moved into our house and started working on the garden, we both fell in love with the idea of ​​a front garden to share with the neighbors. ”

Each year, the couple dedicates the garden to a current cause or event. The garden’s first dedication was in memory of a deceased neighbor, while this year’s garden was planted in honor of healthcare and other essential workers on the front lines of the battle against COVID-19, Lewis said.

The garden was a great topic of conversation and became a fun way to meet neighbors and make friendships, he adds.

“We have these fortuitous interactions with the neighbors,… and people have been very grateful, to the extent that even people have left kind notes in our mailbox,” he says. “I also think the act of kindness, of talking to some people, kind of inspired them to have that same kind of generous nature.”

Neighbors and friends Tom Linneman and Farhang Rouhani have lived in Woodland Heights for 14 years.

“We loved watching the garden grow over time,” says Linneman. “We regularly get things from it. A few weeks ago, we were on our way to see some friends we hadn’t seen since before the pandemic, and we just stopped on the way and cut some flowers from the garden to bring. “

Tomatoes were the most popular item grown in the garden, while eggplant was a failed experiment, Lewis says.

“[Tomatoes] are easy to pick, so it’s kind of the mainstay of the garden, but we also plant squash, beans, potatoes, cucumbers, basil, hot peppers, zucchini, tomatillos ”, says -he. “For the most part, these are the kinds of things that are relatively easy to grow and can provide something for anyone who can pass.”

Citeroni loved the conversations the garden sparked between neighbors. “They always take me back to the small town where I grew up near Pittsburgh,” she says, “where the neighbors set up tables by the side of the road to share the produce they’ve grown and to chat with the neighbors. and passers-by. .

“They also give me hope in times of deep social despair, renewing my faith in the power of people to nurture one another, forge meaningful bonds and exercise solidarity in the struggle for justice. social. I know, I know, it’s just a garden, but really, it encompasses so much more.

Since the start of the pandemic, the couple have also created a small library in their front yard, stocked with brochures and books. The “Info Shop”Is free for people to borrow and take items as they please, with an option to donate money to replenish it.

“It is specially designed for progressive literature,” says Lewis. “These are essentially 95% fanzines, like little pamphlets, and [it] has a lot of different topics, from gardening to bikes to gender to activism, even reading and self-help for some kids.

The L’il Info Shop was created as another community asset and a way for people to learn things they might not otherwise have been exposed to, Lewis says.

“One day we saw a young lady pulling a few pounds out of it and she said she was picking up a book on buying your first home because she was just starting to plan to do it,” Linneman said. “Such a beautiful moment. “

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