Community garden in Germany helps residents cope with loved ones' absence
July 25, 2011
BAUMHOLDER, Germany -- Angela Graves and Gina Smith leaned against their shovels, pausing to survey the plot that they hoped would one day be their new garden.
After spending several long and hard hours digging, they were now left with a rectangular patch of bare earth.
“It’s going to need some work,” said Smith. “But this is how love starts.”
Smith wasn’t just talking about the garden, but the new friendship that had grown.
Graves, 40, of Philadelphia, had just moved to the U.S. Army garrison, and Smith, 28, was helping her acclimate to the post as her sponsor.
The pair, whose husbands are both deployed to Afghanistan, were meeting for the first time. Soon after, they decided to work a garden plot together in a new community garden, situated on a patch of land in Wetzel Housing Area.
They are among nearly a dozen Baumholder residents, who have staked claims in the community garden.
“I’m a city girl, and I wanted to be productive,” said Graves, “When your husband is deployed, you reach for things to do.”
The garden was started in late May by Ann Marie Detavernier, a spouse who said she was tired of growing vegetables on her cramped balcony.
Getting permission to dig up the lawn in front of the high school took some polite coaxing, Detavernier said, but now the families of Baumholder get to enjoy the fruits of her labor, planting their own peas, tomatoes, peppers, pumpkins and wildflowers.
It is the only community garden so far on a U.S. military post in Europe, said Detavernier, who has posted guidelines on a Facebook page so that other military communities can follow her example. She got the idea to plant the garden, she said, from the small garden plots dotting the German countryside, as well as the fact that several stateside military installations have set aside patches of land for residents to cultivate.
Though Detavernier’s tiny garden won’t be replacing the produce at the commissary anytime soon, she says she sees it as a way to help the base become slightly more self-sufficient, as well as a place where Baumholder’s families can converge on a sunny day.
“As a child, my summers were spent barefoot in my mother’s garden,” Detavernier said. “And I wanted to create something where my kids could be outside, and I could show them the time and energy it takes to grow things, that they don’t magically appear in the commissary.”
On a recent weekday, Baumholder’s young farmers appeared to be more interested in entomology, hunting for grubs and then feeding them pretzels.
Gloria Bynum planted several lavender bushes with the help of her 3-year-old daughter Breanna, who resisted, at first, getting her hands dirty. But soon she dug holes and looked for grubs with the other children.
Her rust-colored hair tied in a bun, and her hands and knees caked in soil, Bynum, 27, said she had grown up on a farm in Waynesboro, Tenn., where her father often put her to work in the garden.
“My dad was very old school,” she said. “We hand-tilled, shoveled, and fertilized. If you were big enough, you helped.”
Gardening, Bynum said, also gives her an outlet for the pent-up anxieties and stress of her husband’s deployment to Afghanistan. On his last deployment, she said she painted the house six times.
Adjacent to Bynum’s plot was one being tended by Sgt. Dean Owens, who is part of the rear detachment. The garden plots are not limited to spouses, though spouses tend most of them with the brigade currently deployed.
Owens’ plot was one of the few showing signs of life already. Green shoots poked out from the soil, and a lone strawberry hung from a vine. He had planted a variety of vegetables and herbs: carrots, cucumbers, garlic, bell peppers, chives and dill. He said he was looking forward to seeing what the first harvest would bring.
“I just hope the yield is good,” he said.
Owens is not deployed because of several enlarged lymph nodes. He said he was also being treated for anxiety and sleep apnea.
“It’s a good stress reliever,” he said of gardening. “I can come out here and just go into my own world.”