Diverse communities connect through community gardens in Arlington

Arlington County may just be one locality in the heavily populated area of Northern Virginia, but this relatively small spot of land that borders the District of Columbia is home to a population that hails from all regions of the globe including Asia, Central and South America, Africa, and the Middle East.

In addition, many residents of Arlington County are classified as having low English proficiency, so unifying this diverse population through Extension programming can be challenging.

Agriculture and Natural Resources Extension Agent Kristen Buhls thought a garden could be the key to creating cohesion in a community with disparate ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds.

“My purpose in planting a garden of herbs that were used in the ethnic traditions of these groups of people was to create a teaching tool to increase volunteer and visitor appreciation of horticultural diversity, and also to establish a way for immigrants to see that the plants of their gastronomic traditions could be grown successfully here,” said Buhls.

Classes were provided in plant propagation, identification of flowering trees, herb crafts, flower arranging, wreathmaking, and also outdoor gardening.

“Due to the low English proficiency of participants these classes were heavy on hands-on, demonstration type of exercises, where participants often took home a product of their making, said Buhls. “Most often the classes that were taught by me and volunteers turned into impromptu English lessons, and an opportunity for participants to show off their knowledge of these topics in their own language.”

The garden was a featured stop on tours during a community event called Fairlington Day and attracted many young families who learned a bit about gardening and the importance of Extension.