AFAC Plot Against Hunger

Tomatoes ripen on the vine at a garden maintained by the Arlington Food Assistance Center on South Walter Reed Drive.

A three-year-old collaboration between the Arlington County government and Arlington Food Assistance Center (AFAC) appears to be paying healthy dividends.

County officials in 2013 permitted AFAC to turn a vacant parcel on South Walter Reed Drive into a “Plot Against Hunger” garden, where vegetables and fruits are raised throughout spring, summer and fall.

Tomatoes, sweet potatoes, peas, romaine lettuce, radishes, beans, peppers and zucchini are grown – “all things we know clients like,” said Puwen Lee, AFAC’s associate director of programs and manager of the Plot Against Hunger initiative, during an open house held July 15. (The adjacent Fort Barnard Community Garden held an open house the same day.)

The Walter Reed site, wedged in between the community garden to the north and a dog park to the south, previously had a single-family home on it before being acquired by the county government.

“They were really nice about it,” Lee said of the government’s willingness to provide the space.

The Plot Against Hunger program, and other AFAC outreach efforts, not only bring in food for clients, but also provide the broader community information on food and hunger issues.

“It’s great,” said Audrey Morris, a longtime AFAC supporter who manages the non-profit’s organic garden at Central Library, speaking of the growth of the Plot Against Hunger initiative, which began in 2008.

Morris said the Central Library site is in a high-traffic area, which encourages the public to stop by.

“They ask specific gardening questions, all kinds of things,” she said. “Kids are curious.”

The Walter Reed site is not so much in public view, but it supplies a steady stream of fresh food to AFAC clients.

During an open-house tour, Lee pointed out the homemade composting bins, which made their debut last year (partially through the efforts of Boy Scout Troop 104). The aerated bins give off a pungent odor when the temperature outside is high, but that only means Mother Nature is doing her job turning discards into “just incredible soil,” Lee said.

“It’s beautiful stuff,” she said, pointing out the worms that called the mulch home and further increased its usefulness. “Such rich stuff.”

By the time of the mid-summer open house, tomato plants were beginning to show growth, with the fruits – tomatoes are technically fruits, not vegetables – beginning to turn from green to ruby red.

The tomato plants are the result of another partnership, this one with Episcopal High School. For the last four years, the school’s greenhouse has provided them.

The Walter Reed site has no direct connection to water lines, so volunteers who run it have been forced to improvise. Rain barrels collect and strain water, which is then parceled out to the raised beds via a timer.

The Plot Against Hunger program has grown significantly in scale and scope since its debut eight years ago. There now are numerous schools, religious organizations and community-based groups that grow food for AFAC. In return, the organization co-sponsors a series of talks at Central Library and teaches gardening classes to youth at apartment complexes where AFAC distributes food.

For information on the effort, see the Web site at www.afac.org.

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