On May 14 residents and volunteers gathered outside Weinberg Village in Owings Mills to plant their seedlings in the community’s outdoor garden space. The weather all day had been gloomy, by the sun peeked out from the clouds for what seemed just long enough to plant the gardens before fat droplets soaked the freshly tilled earth.
The garden is a group of raised beds of varying levels to cater to resident’s individual abilities. The highest are about waist height, requiring little-to-no bending for residents, while others are close to the ground. Residents planted all kinds of vegetables and flowers ranging from tomatoes to basil to cucumbers.
Gary Saylor, president of Atlantic Maintenance Group, who donated countless hours towards soil maintenance, water repairs and more, explained that “instead of just kind of coming and volunteering, it’s almost like an extended family to us now.”
Weinberg Village’s Director of Activities, Gayle Newman said that it takes her approximately three months to organize all the volunteers and residents for the garden each year.
It all started seven or eight years ago when residents kept coming to Newman asking for a garden. At first, Newman struggled to find land and water access but the project soon came together thanks to the help of volunteers and management.
After getting the green light, Newman called Josh and Becky Brenner, lifelong gardeners who had been donating vegetables from their own large garden to residents. The Brenners come several times during the summer to answer resident’s questions about gardening, bring fertilizer and help out where needed. They recruited Boy Scouts and Cub Scouts, of which their sons were a part, to help build and paint five waist-high planters for the garden.
That year, they had just five participants.
The second year, Home Depot in Owings Mills donated the time of 15 people along with materials to build more beds. “They were a blessing,” Newman said.
This year, Newman said, they had 48 people involved in gardening.
“The residents treat the garden as their child,” Newman said, “It’s not just the day of planting, it’s an activity for the whole summer and it socializes them. People talk to each other, they help each other … it’s friendship. It’s more than just planting a garden.”
For the residents, the garden means so much more than the plants that come out of it, though the vegetables are also important.
Patricia Hall and her mother Mildred have a plot in the garden. Patricia said that because she’s vegetarian, “I actually depend on these vegetables for a lot of my summer food.”
At the same time, Hall said, it’s a great way to get outside each day with her mother and spend time in the sun.
Frieda Granat agrees. The garden gives her something to do. She loves to garden “so I can be busy. And I give it to people. I bake and I give everything. I’m 93. I’m a survivor [of the Holocaust]. I want to be busy.”
A resident who wishes to remain unnamed put it concisely. “It makes me feel good.”
For Michael Aisenstein, gardening has been an integral part of his life since he was 12 years old when he helped plant a Victory Garden in World War II. The government encouraged Americans to plant Victory Gardens in their homes and communities to feed themselves while preserving valuable produce and meat for soldiers. Aisenstein, a new resident, recently sold his home that had a large garden and was thrilled to find that Weinberg Village had a gardening opportunity for him.
Volunteers were also present from Jemicy School, organized by Liza Koe.
“I just think it’s kind of fun to come out here and help everyone with the plants and what not,” said Max Albertson, a Jemicy student.
Volunteers like Albertson, the Brenners, Saylor and Cindy Zonies are essential for the success of the garden, said Newman. “I do a lot of work on this but to me, the heart of the community come to the garden.”