Nearly two centuries of local agriculture history and a rejuvenated garden plot have turned multi- bushels of herbs, vegetables and fruits into a charitable bonanza at Robert E. Lee's Arlington House this growing season.
A restored kitchen garden neighboring the past home of George Washington Parke Custis and Civil War General Lee has yielded 1,000 pounds of fresh vegetables for donation to the Arlington Food Assistance Center (AFAC).
According to the National Park Service, which operates the historic house and grounds inside Arlington National Cemetery, the produce tally represents quite a spike in productivity. During 2013, just 200 pounds of food were grown and shipped off-site for the hungry.
"The growing season will roll until the end of October, so we'll be even picking more vegetables," AFAC volunteer gardener Sandy Newton said. "Right now, we're still picking beans, peppers and okra, and we had grapes, blackberries and raspberries this year."
Throughout the 1800s, a garden was close to the Parke Custis and Lee estate to provide food to feed the families and sustain those on the working plantation. During the Civil War, when Arlington House was occupied by the Union Army, the garden helped feed Northern Soldiers.
As sweet corn, beets, turnips, celery, tomatoes, squash and gourds have been recently harvested, the garden is also being used as an educational tool. In addition to the bounty donated to AFAC, cash crops like cotton, tobacco and buckwheat are also grown to give visitors a visual familiarity with the plants and how they were used in the 19th century.
"With the help of AFAC, numerous volunteers have been recruited to help and have contributed events to promote the garden and historic culture than once made the land thrive," a NPS press release said.
"The park service hopes to expand the garden to its original glory to provide even more food for the needy and expand interpretation of the land through monthly events, as well as everyday visitors."
One such event is planned in the upcoming weeks. Arlington House and the garden will host a working garden day Oct. 11, which will focus on the garden and those who worked the land during the pre-Civil War days.