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Sykesville garden sows plants, sense of community

Spring has finally sprung, and the Sykesville Community Garden is ready to see some action. The garden's first work day, on which members of the community can come by to prepare the soil for planting, is scheduled for 1 p.m. April 19.

The garden, at 7547 Main St., is run by the Sykesville Green Committee, which is part of the Main Street Association. Unlike some other community gardens in which people buy a plot and maintain it individually, this one is free to the public and open for anyone interested in participating.

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The garden has been a part of community life since 2012, when founder Lindsay Merkle moved to the area and felt it — and she — was missing something.

"In 2012, my boyfriend and I moved into Sykesville to live on Main Street," she said. "I had never thought about a community garden before I moved there, but as someone who lives in an apartment and doesn't have a yard, [I thought] it'd be nice to have a community garden."

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After attending several town meetings and eventually bringing her request for a community garden to the town council, she not only got permission to start the project, but also became chair of the Sykesville Green Committee.

Since then, she has been working with other Green Committee members to bring the garden to life each year. .

Laura Donnell became involved with the garden its first year.

"So I've been with the garden since 2012, and basically [my husband and I] moved to Sykesville in October 2011, and basically were looking for a way to get to know people and get involved, so that was something we saw and when we got going with it, it was a very interesting project that I thought was quite fascinating, so I got really heavily involved with it," she said.

The garden is a 501(c)3 nonprofit and operates solely on donations, which the committee uses to purchase seeds and gardening supplies. The committee plans what will be planted each season at the conclusion of the previous one. Members then set up a series of maintenance, planting and activity days in which the community can participate.

"We buy all the seeds and plants with our donation money, so we do all the planting … and everyone just works together to do the maintaining," Merkle said. "Members of the Green Committee plan what's going to be put in the garden and the activities, so the work days are really to bring the community together and do certain things," Merkle said. "So the April work day will be to prepare the garden for the season."

Produce usually includes a variety of vegetables and some fruit, Merkle said.

"We always have tomatoes, different kinds of squash, cucumbers, beans, lots of different herbs, some melons, lettuce, Swiss chard, kale, carrots, potatoes," she said.

The first day of planting will be in May. Though there are designated days throughout the season for maintenance and planting, members of the community are welcome to come by at any time to maintain the garden and take whatever produce they desire.

Green Committee member Aleisha Manyette said the idea of taking from the garden without paying for one's own plot is still somewhat foreign to many members of the community.

"I think people still are very much [like] 'Am I allowed to pick from it?'"

But as long as you help maintain the garden, Merkle said, you can enjoy the fruits and vegetables it produces.

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"The garden is completely run on volunteers," Merkle said. "It's always open for people to come and weed. It's free to the public and we encourage if you go there to take something or pick from it, if you see some maintenance that needs to be done [do it]. It's community-supported, so if you're able to do some weeding or do whatever type of maintenance [then] you can also take from the garden, so it's kind of a give and take."

Merkle said the committee also works to provide educational opportunities for the community through activities and programs at planting events.

Donnell said she became a Master Gardener to be able to better educate and inform the public at the garden's programs. She helps coordinate and execute events for the public, and now serves as a liaison between the Carroll County Master Gardeners, who come by to present educational programs at the garden, and the garden. The gardeners volunteer their time as part of a partnership with the garden.

A major part of the programs held are directed toward teaching young people about the benefits of eating healthy and growing their own food. Since its creation, the garden has had an ongoing affiliation with the Girl Scouts.

"So far we've had tons of kids that participate in the community garden and they're just completely amazed," she said. "Kids love to play in the dirt and they love to plant things and they love to watch it grow … I feel it's mostly for the kids. We have a lot of Girl Scout groups that participate in the garden, build different structures and we teach them about planting things."

Manyette, who works to coordinate volunteer opportunities for the Girl Scouts, said the garden provides a good educational opportunity for young people.

"I think the first benefit is it teaches them about how easy it is to grow, to have healthy options around and for them to know what things are," she said. "For example for the Girl Scouts, some of the girls have never seen an eggplant in a garden [from the time it was planted]. The Girl Scouts last year planted almost all the seedlings for the garden. To going from planting all the seeds … and going to picking them and eating them is a big thing for them."

Merkle said it's important for people of all ages to be exposed to the process of growing their own food in each of its stages, from planting to picking.

"Mostly for educational reasons, I think it's really, really important for people — especially kids — to know where food comes from," she said. "There's such a disconnect between eating your food and knowing what it takes to make the food that you're eating. Especially in this day when everything is over-processed, over-shipped, people have kind of lost the feeling that you get when you plant a seed, watch it grow and then can pick it off and eat it right there."

Donnell said the garden also serves as a way to bring members of the community together.

"It gives you a sense of community," she said. "It's a way to meet people. In today's society, [people] come home, they go in their house [and] they don't even say 'hi' to their neighbors. So this is an opportunity to do something. You're outside, you're getting fresh air … it's a social environment and it's a healthy environment."

For more information about the community garden and a schedule of events, visit http://www.sykesvillemainstreet.com/get-involved/ or email sykesvillecommunitygarden@gmail.com.

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