Victory garden builds camaraderie
July 7, 2014
ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. - An Aberdeen Proving Ground civilian has discovered a unique stress reliever that promotes exercise and an appreciation of Mother Nature while inspiring friendships.
Having grown up in the Mississippi Delta, Richard McDonald is used to tilling land and digging his hands into fertile soil. Growing plants and vegetables are spiritual and healing endeavors, he contends, and part of his DNA.
So, creating a "victory garden" this past spring outside of his workplace at APG North (Aberdeen) was a no-brainer for McDonald, an equipment management specialist for the Garrison Maintenance Division's Logistics Readiness Center.
"Sometimes, I come out here alone at night or on weekends and just get lost in my thoughts. It's so nice and quiet and peaceful," McDonald said of the gardern. "When you grow up in a rural type of environment where gardens are popular, you feel very comfortable doing this."
An Army retiree and a member of APG's Community Health Promotion Council, McDonald said he hopes the 15-by-25-foot garden, located behind the Auto Craft Center, inspires other APG employees to create and cultivate their own gardens on post.
"It's not only nutritional and therapeutic, but you can grow stuff and distribute them to the needy," he said. "And it's not expensive to do at all."
Besides producing cucumbers, squash, tomatoes, peas, okra, peppers, lettuce, cantaloupe, carrots and zucchini, the garden has instilled a strong sense of camaraderie between LRC employees and some nearby contractors, according to McDonald.
"Before, we all didn't mix too much and everyone was doing their own thing and not talking," he said. "Now, we all know each other and get along real well. This has created some common ground for contractors and government personnel to work together and relax as they bring their gardening skills to the table."
McDonald, who lives on post in Patriot Village, first came up with the idea of the garden while chatting last winter with his colleague and fellow gardener Robert Tisdale. While some of their coworkers expressed doubts about the project, McDonald and Tisdale proceeded with plans to create the garden on an identified parcel of their work grounds.
"Hey, if the White House, which is a government facility, can have a Victory Garden, why not us?" McDonald said with a chuckle.
When spring rolled around, they borrowed a tiller and got to work, tilling the designated land eight times. Recruited colleagues joined the cause and donated plants, seeds, fertilizer and equipment, and helped set up an irrigation system. About 10 people regularly volunteer their time and energy to the garden.
"We just started from scratch. It was nothing but a field," said McDonald. "It was land not being used and I thought it'd be a great place for a garden. We've had a lot of people [around post] come by, just to see it."
At one point, the gardeners found their most formidable challenge came from groundhogs digging tunnels into the fenced-in garden and snatching plants and vegetables. They set up little cages to trap the pesky critters, but the most effective tool was a collection of red, white and blue pinwheels stationed around the garden. The pinwheels' motion scared off the groundhogs and allowed the garden to thrive.
The gardeners usually tend the garden during lunchtime and before and after working hours. McDonald said they hope to host different post divisions and outfits at the garden for picnics.
"This is just another outlet for people to have," he said. "There's a lot of stress in everyday life. What we've done here is bring about some positive change. [The garden] helps you relax and enjoy your coworkers. … I'm just an old Soldier trying to help make life a little more pleasant for those that may be going through some tough times."
Howard Nason, a contractor manager, called the garden "a great idea."
"People love seeing it, and then they say, `Why didn't we do that before?'"
McDonald and his green-thumbed cohorts have not yet officially named the garden -- although one employee jokingly calls it "Old McDonald's Farm -- and they do not currently plan to expand it.
"Right now, we're just keeping it as it is," said Tisdale. "We want to see how it goes. Next year, we'll figure out what's next. Right now, we're still just learning from our mistakes."
McDonald said calling the plot a victory garden is appropriate.
"This is our victory," he said. "We've created something out of nothing and come together. I hope its sparks other agencies here to mimic what we did."
The garden is located on the grounds of Bldg. 2353. For information, email firstname.lastname@example.org .