With its rolling lawns and stately trees, the grounds of Babcock Presbyterian Church, just off busy Loch Raven Boulevard, is like an urban oasis.
On a sweltering early August morning, a cool breeze sweeps across a grassy knoll behind the church building. The open space along Loch Ness Road is contoured with a dozen small, rectangular garden plots where squash, cucumbers, tomatoes and cantaloupes ripen on the vine and an occasional rabbit darts across the lawn and into the trees.
The little plots, most about the size of a large dining room table, are part of the community garden project that Babcock Church started last year.
This spring and summer, families from the adjoining neighborhoods of Loch Raven Village and the Knettishall have been coming regularly to tend their plots and socialize — or just enjoy the solitude.
Chris Sartor, a trustee at the church, organized the garden last year on the suggestion of Babcock's pastor, the Rev. Harry Cahill. They both saw it as a way to promote neighborhood development, build a stronger sense of community and give residents a chance to grow their own fruits and vegetables.
The church even provided the seeds, water and tools for the gardeners to get started.
From the outset, Sartor made a special effort to recruit nearby residents, regardless of whether they attended Babcock.
"We put an advertisement in Loch Raven Village's little (newsletter) and we made up fliers that we put on people's doors in Knettishall, and it generated a lot of interest," said Sartor, who lives a few blocks away in Knettishall and works in the insurance industry
Nora Moynihan, who also lives nearby and works at Baltimore'sPort Discovery Children's Museum, has become one of the most avid gardeners.
"There are a lot of us who put in our little garden plots here last year and came back this year and planted our same plots," Moynihan said. "It's been really nice, and there's been a lot of learning about how to do organic gardening."
Though she's not a member of the church, Moynihan is a big believer in the community garden concept. She sees a direct connection between it and the health and wellness programs she's involved with at the children's museum.
"Myself, I grew up with a mom who gardened, but I'd never done much gardening," she said. "It's fun, because the little kids in the neighborhood are able to connect with the garden-to-table experience, of where their food actually comes from."
"I think, these days, a lot of people are really disconnected from that, and this is a beautiful opportunity for people in urban settings to make that connection," she said.
Sartor says the project has given his two young daughters their first experience at growing their own vegetables. "They'd never gardened before, but they've sure had a lot of fun up here," he added.
On another recent morning at the garden, Ginny Foster, of Knettishaw, came by to harvest green beans at her plot, while Jeffrey O'Donnell of Loch Raven Village picked fresh cucumbers and tended his part of the garden.
"A lot of people just come over here to stroll and have a look at what's going on, because it's novel," Moynihan said. "Sometimes when I come up here I see people just sitting on the benches or under a tree, reading. It's just delightful up here."
Moynihan says she particularly enjoys when Cahill strolls over to the garden to chat with the gardeners and see how their broccoli and cucumbers are coming along.
"Even though many of us don't go to this church, it's really made this church a part of our community," she said.
Babcock Presbyterian Church is located at 8240 Loch Raven Boulevard. For more details on its community garden project, email Chris Sartor at firstname.lastname@example.org.