In a day and age when parents have so many decisions to second-guess, how refreshing to attend an event that makes you glad you chose to live where you do!

Last week’s Eat Grow Learn seminar in Arlington brought together some 50 Northern Virginia community members for a feel-good fest about gardening efforts in public schools and community partnerships for green space and healthy food.

Among the reasons to walk away happy were the following nuggets:

  • Alexandria City Public Schools has 14 learning gardens  plus additional community garden spaces on school property. Many

    Community gardening day at Arlington's Campbell Elementary

    schools in Arlington also have learning gardens, including Campbell Elementary where community involvement and grants have helped sustain a large outdoor learning space that is integrated into the curriculum. Children in the city of Falls Church enjoy outdoor classrooms and a family discovery series that has brought out hundreds of people for evening programs on topics like the night sky.

  • The Tancil Community Garden in Alexandria and Virginia Gardens in Arlington are community gardens in public housing complexes where residents have been taught how to plant and maintain the gardens, resulting in lowered grocery bills and higher consumption of fresh foods. Duplication of these successful models for the future is a goal. These new gardens are complement the community garden programs in both the city and the the county.
  • Arlington Food Assistance Center has figured out some amazing ways to get fresh produce in the hand of the low-income folks it serves, including the Plant a Row/Plot Against Hunger program, partnerships with churches to grow gardens, donations from farmers market vendors Penn Farm and Westmoreland Farms
  • Arlington and Alexandria schools have taken on some exciting activities for Farm to School week
  • Resources abound for supporting outdoor learning and gardening in schools and at home, including curriculum and support offered by 4-H, The Journey North project, and the Master Gardeners volunteer network.

Arlington County Board member Walter Tejada addresses the Eat Grow Learn seminar

To recount everything I learned would take an entire week of posts, but those are some highlights. Upon leaving the seminar, I was happy to be a public school parent. The gathering of parents, volunteers, and school, county and city personnel motivated me to keep greening my thumbs. As a result,

  • We made sure to attend our school’s community garden day the next morning even though we had other commitments that made our work time short
  • I’m ever more inspired to start a second raised bed in our yard next year and be sure to Plant a Row for the Arlington Food Assistance Center (AFAC).
  • When the kids are a little older, one family field trip we’ll be sure to take will be to help get more fresh produce donated to AFAC by harvesting excess crops from fields that would otherwise be left unclaimed
  • We didn’t let Sunday go by without a trip to the farmer’s market, where I told an area newcomer to patronize the farms that donate to AFAC.
  • My resolve to make sure my son’s school celebrate Farm to School week in a big way has increased. PTA meeting, here I come!
  • I plan to put a bug in the ear of our Neighborhood Conservation representative (aka my husband) to see if we can get it in our soon-to-be-updated neighborhood plan to use some of our open green space for gardens that can benefit the community

The seminar did share stories of missed opportunities and room for improvement, but those only served to make the participants even more excited about rolling up our sleeves. It was hard to walk away from the day of presentations without also a thrill that so many people care so much about making our communities healthy and our children committed to tending the earth.


 Jessica Claire Haney blogs about living naturally — most of the time — at Crunchy-Chewy Mama.