Manassas neighborhood grows stronger: With the help of a community garden initiative, community grows across age and culture in Point of Woods
|By Alexandra Murray|
For many neighborhoods in Manassas, a sprawling bedroom community of Washington, D.C., a strong sense of community is not the first thing to come to mind. For the Point of Woodsneighborhood, near the east of the city, however, the story is a little different.
The three communities of Point of Woods are comprised of townhomes, which, last year, received the new addition of a 26-plot community garden. The garden has become a unifying force for the neighborhood, something Kisha Wilson-Sogunro, neighborhood services manager for Manassas, said is much needed.
“This garden is so important for the community in Point of Woods,” she said. “It has done so many great things, and who doesn’t love gardening and fresh veggies?”
The garden was started by 1 By Youth, a community revitalization cooperative, last year in order to improve the neighborhood and bring the community together.
Pamala Weinlein, a resident of Point of Woods said the project was a huge help and a great initiative, something that may not have been accomplished without the help of 1 By Youth.
“1 By Youth came out here and they dug the whole garden up for us. And with the help of some of the local businesses, they plotted it out, pulled out a bunch of rocks, sectioned it off, put down the mulch path and set all the plots up for everyone.”
Nikki Ebert, president of the Point of Woods neighborhoods one and two, says the effort to join the community has paid off in a big way.
“It has been great. A lot of friendships have been made as a result of the garden,” she said. “We are learning from each other all the time and we all keep an eye out for each others plots. I wouldn’t know any of them if I weren’t for the garden.”
That sense of community has prompted more families to take part in the community garden. All but two of the plots are sold for this year, a large increase from last year.
“We started out last year and we had a lot of plots that weren’t sold. This year, I think we only have two plots left,” Weinlein said. “Everyone suddenly wanted one.”
Ebert says the increase in gardeners has helped build that community and that everyone is able to learn from one another in a more practical, comfortable way.
“We have people from all different backgrounds and it proves that people can get along no matter where you come from. We all have something to learn from each other,” she said. “It has also helped bring the community together because people like to just come a look at the garden and talk to us. I think it’s made a huge difference in our neighborhood.”
Sogunro says the garden is doing an important job of making people aware of the other cultures in one neighborhood.
“It’s important for people to know that everyone doesn’t do everything like you. And that’s okay,” she said. “We need to be sensitive to other cultures.”
Homeowners like Weinlein say they are happy to be meeting new people and growing their community.
“There’s a lot of Hispanic families that are coming out and joining in too, which is great,” she said. “For a lot of them it’s their first year coming out and being a part of it. Last year, I think there was a family that grew peanuts. That was really cool. I’ve never seen anybody grow peanuts in such a small space before.”
Some of the items being planted last year surprised some of the other gardeners, as well.
“Last year we had somebody plant quinoa. It’s this giant purple plant and no one had any idea what it was,” Weinlein said. “This year it’s pretty much the standard stuff. I’m planting potatoes for the first time.”
Though the plots are just getting started for this growing season due to the frost that killed some plants in March, families are eager to see their hard work pay off. Tammy Brasfield and her family said they are looking forward to seeing their first crop of strawberries grow since they lost their tomatoes to frost last month.
The gardens have become a haven for families with children who relish the opportunity to be able to spend time with one another.
David Jedlicka was proud to show off the plot he and his son have for the year. “This is actually his plot,” Jedlicka said. “We’re growing a little bit of everything in here.”
His son Bradley said he enjoys learning from his dad who does landscaping part-time.
Ebert says family involvement is key and, while she understands families are struggling, she says parents need to take a more active role in getting their kids involved in the neighborhood.
“I also think parents need to be more involved with their children. Help get them involved with the community,” she said. “A lot of the kids seem to really want to help, they just need guidance. This would help keep them out of trouble. Perhaps if there were some free activities it would help. I know a lot of parents are just doing their best to keep a roof over their heads.”
She says that involvement is not the only issue that Point of Woods is trying to overcome. Pride of ownership in the neighborhood is an issue she says needs to be resolved. A trash problem has caused a great deal of friction among members of the neighborhood.
“A lot of people simply don’t care what the rules are and I think a lot of them tend to be renters. Some say that it’s a cultural thing for the Hispanic members of our community, but regardless we need to find a way to stop it. I think we all need to take pride in our homes whether we rent or not,” Ebert said.
Sogunro says that this garden is confronting one of the major issues she sees in Manassas today, the language barrier.
In an effort to make sure the entire community was involved, newsletters were printed in English and Spanish—an effort that was suspended because of printing costs and time limitations.
“We did that on our own to make sure everyone was reading them. Then we decided to make them available in Spanish upon request so we could save money on paper and printing. I think when we do parking passes this year we may ask if people need the newsletter in Spanish. I think it helped having it in Spanish,” she said.
Regardless of the struggles, Ebert says, she is grateful for the community garden and for the area she lives in.
“I think Manassas is great place to live and raise a family. I really do love living here. Especially since last year when we started the garden…there’s really starting to be a sense of community. As far as Point of Woods, we’re getting there. We still need some TLC, but I think we’re definitely moving in the right direction.”
This is something that was echoed by homeowners in Point of Woods, as well.
“Around here if we don’t know you,” Weinlein said, “we’ll just come up and say hi.”