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Growing a Garden and Community

What’s Up Magazine had a lovely article about the community garden that is located next to the playground and was planted by the students at AES:

One warm October morning in 2010, an elementary school principal, a PTA president, a worker from the school’s after-care program, and a young man running a newly incorporated nonprofit, got together to talk about creating a school food garden.

They walked the grounds of Annapolis Elementary School, noting the sunny spots and available square footage. Heather Macintosh, the PTA president, was excited but couldn’t help wonder about the cost. It was an ambitious idea and the budget for the year was already set. “That’s when Joel [Bunker, of Grow Annapolis] looked at me and said you don’t understand,” remembers Macintosh. “We want to do this for you, and with you.” The mission of Grow Annapolis is to foster and help sustain community gardens. It would be a lot of work, but they would do it together, and it needn’t cost the school a dime.

Susan Myers, principal at Annapolis Elementary, had been ready for this type of project for years. She’d long been interested in green schools and outdoor education. “I don’t know if children today appreciate their environment as much as they should; maybe they don’t have the resources to do that. They’re in a city where there isn’t too much green. I wanted to bring an outdoor environment to the students.”

Within months, children were starting seeds in their classrooms and helping spread compost in newly built raised beds. Between October and March, community groups and government agencies had partnered with Annapolis Elementary School. Local businesses donated materials, a church donated funds for a water cistern, and countless parents, teachers, and children put in hours of hard labor. What inspired such an outpouring of community support? And how did an inchoate notion evolve so quickly, turning a lifeless cracked blacktop into a bright plot filled with herbs, fruit, vegetables, and flowers? Like most gardens, it all began in the cold wet days of early spring.


Heather Macintosh organized one of the first work parties in March, tapping her friends who were also parents of fifth graders to help. The group built garden beds and trellises, and moved a mountain of topsoil by wheelbarrow through rain, snow, and hail one Saturday afternoon. All the volunteers were covered with mud and utterly exhausted by the end of the day; then they realized they weren’t finished. “Most of us came back the next day with our kids, and we found more kids to help, too,” remembered Heather. The group spent five more hours working in the cold and wet weather on Sunday. Looking back on the community spirit that sustained all those people in the awful weather, it is clear to her why the group stuck with it. “We were seeing things taking shape. It was fun seeing a bed being hammered together, then filled, then leveled, and finally we’d put a sign on the end that said ‘third grade.’ It was so satisfying! I’d do it all again.”

In late April, students, teachers, parents, and community members gathered on the blacktop for the Annapolis Elementary School Garden Dedication Ceremony. Local luminaries spoke and celebrated the new garden, including Superintendent Kevin Maxwell, President of the Board of Education Patricia Nalley, and City Councilman Chris Trumbauer.

Joel Bunker spoke last, addressing the two hundred or so children sitting on the blacktop in a quiet voice.

“Do you remember who planted this garden?”

A little boy in the pre-kindergarten class sat very still, his skinny arms akimbo and his big eyes fixed on Joel. After a long pause, he managed to whisper, “me.”

Then Miss Burns, a kindergarten teacher, released butterflies that her class had recently watched emerge from their chrysalises into the garden. With each butterfly that made its way from the netted cage, the children jumped up and down, clapping and yelling triumphantly.


Annapolis Elementary parents and teachers, and gardeners from the Grow Annapolis community garden on Compromise Street (just a few feet away from Annapolis Elementary School), pitched in to help water and weed during the hot summer months. Occasionally, other visitors came to help.

In July, a group of rising ninth graders from the Summer Bridge program at Annapolis High School opted to spend a day working in the garden. Bunker spoke with the group, explaining what the garden was about, what they’d be doing, and finally passing out shovels and gloves.

The group ranged from kids with considerable experience gardening, like 14-year-old Luz, who confidently tore an invasive vine from a garden fence (she used to help her grandmother tend flowers in Mexico), to kids who had never spent time digging in the dirt, like 13-year-old Kaniya, who screamed upon sight of a bug and leapt out of the raised bed she had been considering weeding.

Many of these students had positive gardening experiences with their grandparents. Anne Heiser Buzelli, of the Anne Arundel County Health Department, has been involved with the project from the beginning, and thinks the school garden is evidence that the tradition is re-emerging: families are returning to gardening and patronizing farmer’s markets to save money, eat more nutritious food, and feel more connected to each other and their neighbors. “Gardening used to be the norm, and its coming back around. I think Anne Arundel County is going to benefit tremendously from this local food movement…it’s all really falling together.”


One morning in October, at one of the first garden work parties of the year for volunteer parents, a lone woman was kneeling by a garden path, pulling weeds. Bobbijo Clore has three children at Annapolis Elementary and is the head of the PTA garden committee for the 2011–12 school year. She didn’t have much help that day, but it wasn’t dampening her spirits. “Even though parents and teachers helped, over the summer the garden got so jungly. Then with Hurricane Irene, and all that rain…? It’s been hard to keep up.”

Clore thinks the garden needs to be scaled down in order to become more manageable for the school. Like many first gardens, this one may have been overly ambitious. But as she points out gourds growing in a neighboring bed, it’s clear that the garden is a source of happiness and pride. There will be enough for each classroom to make a birdhouse gourd this fall. The herbs are looking bountiful, and rainbow chard is brilliant in the autumn sunshine.

Whether this project’s stakeholders are most passionate about health, the environment, outdoor education, beautifying and improving the school, or simply building community in downtown Annapolis, all of them feel pretty good about the garden’s first growing season.


Joel Bunker concedes that there is a lot to learn in a pilot program, but overall the garden—especially because of the many community partners involved—has been a great success. Sue Myers agrees. Her goal is to encourage a sense of ownership amongst the students during the garden’s second growing season; to that end, children will be researching vegetables, the local climate, and what should be planted and when in our area. Each classroom will choose an item that they want to plant this spring, starting seedlings indoors just as they did last year. “I want to be sure students choose and plant what they want—not what we decide they’ll do,” says Myers. The County Health Department will continue their support as well, helping with classroom resources, as well as with color-themed fruit and vegetable tasting events in the school cafeteria. Clore and other parents from the PTA have volunteered to help with ongoing garden activities.

Various PTA members from other schools have approached Annapolis Elementary PTA members and teachers, wondering how their school can grow a garden, too. Grow Annapolis and the Health Department are working with some of them, making plans for the future. Heather Macintosh surmised that “it’s not impossible to think every public school in Annapolis could have a garden.”

Yet the unique garden at Annapolis Elementary School grew from certain people who valued local food, health, the environment, outdoor education, and maybe most importantly, fostering strong community relationships. A principal with a background in agriculture, a PTA president with a passion for children’s health, a community gardens nonprofit led by a man with a clear sense of mission (whose flagship garden was just steps away), a nutritionist at the Health Department who happens to grow a vegetable garden with her five year old every year at home, and countless dedicated others came together to make this pilot garden a success.

Here’s hoping more local schools are at the ready with their own unique mix of the right people, right place, and right time as well, so that even more fruit, vegetables, and children might flourish in the spring.

The full text of the article and its accompanying images is available here:

You can learn more about Grow Annapolis at:

Peter Cane posts an article about the playground

Photographer Peter Cane posted a terrific article about the playground and the garage proposal on his blog:

In a report requested by the mayor: “In planning for that project, (back in 1987) the City promised the residents that if they built the playground, the City would guarantee it would remain a playground.”

In the same report the city alluded to the fact that if a garage was to built a playground must remain on the property but a closer reading makes it clear that’s not the city’s position, at all.

“The sub‐committee believes the City must honor its commitment to retain the playground in spirit if not in physical fact……(what does that mean??) However, as of this writing the Board of Education has not expressed a firm requirement for access to the playground.”

There are a lot of reasons this garage is a incredibly bad idea.

Green Street elementary school kids need this park. It’s public property and belongs to all of us, and it should not be used to create a business opportunity for a few select and well connected businessmen.

The full text of the article is available at:

City Council OKs Money to Study Playground Relocation

Greater Annapolis Patch reports:


Annapolis City Council unanimously voted Monday night to spend $20,000 on a study associated with the proposal to build a parking garage along Compromise Street.

The move came near the end of the council meeting as a budget transfer. The shuffling of funds was unanimously approved. Alderman Ross Arnett was absent.

City Manager Michael Mallinoff said the money would be moved from a contingency fund.

He said the money is intended to pay for a study of the playground near Annapolis Elementary School and what would need to be done if it would be relocated to make way for a parking garage there.

The money will not be used to begin planning an actual project. The county Board of Education is planning a renovation project of the aged school building, which will require relocating the students to Annapolis Middle School.

City officials have been working with the school district to take advantage of the time when students are out of the building to construct a garage near there.

The issue of moving the playground and even building the parking garage has been met with opposition from parents and even prompted a petition against the project. The school’s parent-teacher organization is against losing what little open space the school has and they also have expressed concerns over the various problems that could arise if a garage is built that close to the school.

The full text of this article is available at:


PTA outlines concerns about garage plan

Greater Annapolis Patch reported on the PTA’s testimony at the AACPS Board of Education meeting:

PTA: Parking Garage Would Create ‘Prison Yard’ Effect

When Sarah Williamson spoke to the Anne Arundel County Board of Education Wednesday afternoon she made it clear the Annapolis Elementary School Parent-Teacher Association is concerned with more than just the fate of the playground.

Speaking on behalf of the PTA, Williamson laid out a lengthy list of concerns involving the city’s proposition to build a parking garage along Compromise Street near the school. They all involved the safety and health of the students.

The garage would be built at the same time as an upcoming renovation and expansion of the school.

Wednesday’s board meeting was the first time the two groups officially talked about the possibility. They are now working on a memorandum of understanding to move forward with planning the garage.

But if the PTA had its way, the project wouldn’t progress past this point. And here’s a look at some of the concerns Williamson mapped out during the meeting:

  • “The construction of a garage would create what I see as a ‘prison yard’ effect with an even smaller play space confined on at least three, if not four sides, by structures blocking out the sun and breeze.”

    She said moving the playground closer to the school would further limit the already small open area where the students play kickball and tag.

  • “The negative health effects of car and truck exhaust are widely known, with ozone and particulates from cars increasing the incidence of asthma, chronic bronchitis, lung cancer and even susceptibility to the common cold, and hence, student absences.”

    She said having a garage so close would increase the students’ exposure by attracting more vehicles to the area, and even talked about the potential impact of cold versus warm catalytic converters.

  • “Because of our urban setting, school staff already have to periodically wake sleeping vagrants up and ask them to leave the playground or school grounds, or clean up alcohol bottles or drug paraphernalia from the ground before the children can come outside.”

    She said the garage would prevent the play area from being seen from the street and encourage use of the area as a nighttime hangout.

  • “It could also hinder students and staff exiting the school property in an emergency.”

“The city’s proposal does nothing to enhance the educational opportunities and learning environment at Annapolis Elementary School, and in fact, we feel it threatens the very same.”

The full text of this article is available at:

City, School Board Discuss Compromise Street Garage

Greater Annapolis reports:

Officials from from Annapolis and the Anne Arundel County School Board are going to continue talking about the possibility of building of parking garage near Annapolis Elementary School.

But the project is just short of an official memorandum of understanding between the city and the school system that would allow the project to officially move forward.

The city wants to build a parking garage along Compromise Street partially where the public playground and a portion of the school’s play area currently stand.

The project quickly met with opposition from parents and residents who started a petition against the garage and to keep the playground as part of any project that proceeds.

City officials are hoping to cooperate with the school board and build the garage in conjunction with an upcoming renovation and expansion of the school.

The school board did not sign a memorandum, but instead agreed to continue to have staff members work with city officials.

Board President Patricia Nalley, along with several other members, said the students are their foremost concern—especially their safety.

The full text of the article is available here:

Playground deed may complicate garage plan

The Annapolis Capital reported that “A property deed written more than 100 years ago could throw a wrench into city plans to partner with Anne Arundel County schools and a private developer on a parking garage project downtown.”

This deed, recorded on June 25, 1901, speaks to the use of the Newman Street property as a playground. The Capital has transcribed a portion of the document: “And whereas it was expressly understood and agreed as is specifically set forth in this petition to the Circuit Court for Anne Arundel County whereon the aforesaid order of April 30 was passed, and is also specifically set out in the Trustee’s Report of Sale aforesaid that the said property should be held by the parties of the second part and their successors in truth as a playground for the white children of the public schools of said City of Annapolis and to and for no other use whatsoever and not to be held by the school commissioners of Anne Arundel County as a part of the public school property of the said county in anyway whatsoever now therefore in consideration of the premises and of the payments of the purchase money aforesaid the said party of the first part doth by these present grant and convey unto the said parties of the second part and their successors … ”

The full text of this article is available at:

Parents oppose city garage, fear loss of playground

The Annapolis Capital reports:

More than 1,500 residents have signed a petition as of last week against a plan to build a parking garage that would mean moving a popular downtown Annapolis playground.

To revitalize City Dock, Mayor Josh Cohen wants to strip away the pavement around the harbor, making way for more parks and pedestrian activity on the water’s edge.

One idea for making this possible is to put a parking garage next to Annapolis Elementary School on parcels straddling city land and property owned by the county school system.

The full text of this article is available at:

Petition garners media attention

Greater Annapolis Patch reported on the Save the Playground! petition:

The city’s plan to build a new parking garage along Compromise Street in downtown Annapolis quickly raised concerns among residents who said the project could claim a popular playground.

As reported in The Capital, the parking garage is proposed to be a cooperative effort combined with the upcoming construction slated for Annapolis Elementary School.

Residents and parents of children at the school grew worried enough over the fate of the playground that they started circulating a petition calling for the city to protect the Newman Street play area and basketball courts.

The full text of the article is available at:

Park was completely renovated in 2004

According to an article in Bay Weekly, the Newman Street Park, the site of the proposed garage, received a $270,000 makeover in 2004, funded by both the local government and multiple community groups.

Park renovations will include a rain garden, fresh landscaping, up-to-date playground equipment, an inviting brick walkway in sync with City Dock, two sitting walls, new rust-resistant fencing for the basketball court, new park benches and new drinking fountains.

The first phase of remodeling — a new playground compliant with National Playground Safety standards — was completed last fall. The new playground structures, beige with dark green accents, were designed for specific age groups of children. Children ages three to five will enjoy the smaller structure, only five steps off the ground with short slides and a small tube for climbing through. Older kids — ages six to 12 — will seek out the taller and more challenging structure to scale a short faux-rock wall or walk up the handicap-accessible ramp, slip down a number of curvy slides or swing from loop-like monkey bars. Children are already playing on Newman Park’s new playground.

The second phase, the park’s front — facing the Fleet Reserve Club and Fawcett Boat Supply — will be completed this fall. After hiring a contractor, Annapolis Recreation and Parks anticipates a brand- new park within 60 to 90 days.

The rain garden’s design, created by Rotary member Alice Neily Mutch of BaySmart Gardening, calls for 53 species of native plants, including five types of ferns, an array of flowers, bushes such as bayberry and spicebush and spring bulbs like narcissus and Jack in the pulpit.

To interest kids, Mutch says, she “included plants with interesting names such as ‘bee balm’ and ‘lizard’s tail.’” The planned garden also combines plants that require full sun, partial shade and full shade as well as plants that require very wet soil, moist-to-wet soil and well-drained soil. Homeowners will find at this park native plants that will grow in their own yards regardless of their shade and moisture.

“I made an effort to choose attractive native plants that homeowners can use in their own yards,” said Mutch, who hopes that the foliage will serve as a model for other rain gardens in the county.

Not only will Annapolis Rotary’s new garden enhance aesthetics, the plants will serve as a bioretention area, absorbing rainwater runoff from roads and nearby parking lots.

As water streams off paved surfaces, it heads for the Bay. The rain garden’s water-loving plants will soak up much of this water before a drainage system takes care of the excess water. In this way rain gardens help minimize runoff, and its pollution, into waterways.

Installing this rain garden by hand is Annapolis Rotary, one of 16,000 Rotary clubs nationwide undertaking a centennial project in honor of Rotary International’s 100th anniversary. For this big anniversary, Rotary International asked each club to initiate a project that would be a visible and permanent manifestation of Rotary in the community. Hence the Newman Park garden and park renovation.

“More than something just to fund,” said Ron Baradel, Annapolis Rotary’s new president as of July 1, “we wanted hands-on participation by our members.”

Last fall, the group set out to discover what projects would benefit area organizations as well as meet Rotary’s goals for the centennial project.

The 160-member Annapolis group opted to reinvent Newman Street Park because it “seemed to have the widest appeal,” said Baradel. “Its central location will benefit tourists and natives alike.”

In addition to financially supporting the park with $50,000 for materials and by supplying workers to plant the garden, Annapolis Rotary will maintain the park’s garden every three months — weeding, pruning or tackling whatever the season demands.

A price tag of $270,000 means that the park’s funding will be a patchwork of contributions. With the city of Annapolis and Maryland State Program Open Space each covering $100,000, Annapolis Rotary itself will give $50,000. A $5,000 contribution from Annapolis Elementary’s Parent Teacher Association and a $15,000 grant from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation make up the remainder.

The full text of this article is available at:

Article in Annapolis Capital Announces Plan

The Annapolis Capital ran an article, announcing plans for a new parking garage:

Annapolis officials are now considering building a new garage on Compromise Street just steps from Ego Alley, Market House and City Dock. Supporters say it will get cars off the harbor’s edge while providing parking for downtown businesses.

The construction at Annapolis Elementary School, which will begin next summer on Green Street, has created an opportunity for the city to work with the Anne Arundel County school board on a garage, Mayor Josh Cohen said. The project could be slated for the adjoining city and school properties.

The full text of the article is available at