Herbal tea, roasted beets, and freshly baked veggie pizza.
Those are among the latest offerings coming out of the Capital Area Food Bank’s Urban Demonstration Garden, thanks to a dramatic renovation project that has enabled the garden team to use harvested foods just steps away from where they’re pulled out of the ground.
The renovation project — which was made possible through generous support from Marriot International and The J. Willard and Alice S. Marriott Foundation — involved building a new outdoor teaching kitchen adjacent to CAFB’s existing garden. The new kitchen space includes a sink, a stove top, a grill, fridge space, and a pizza oven.
“Now we can directly use what we’re harvesting,” says Avery Cross, CAFB’s Food Growing Education Specialist. “We have a space here to bring it over, cook with it, and enjoy it.”
Incorporating cooking demonstrations alongside the garden gives visitors another way to become familiar with the produce they see in the garden. Not only do they learn how certain foods grow, but also how to use those fresh, nutritious foods in their own kitchens.
Completing the outdoor kitchen space are new tables and flooring, turning an underutilized area into a more accessible one for visitors to participate in a broader range of outdoor programming.
In addition to building the new kitchen, the recent renovation project also included overhauls to the demonstration garden itself.
The garden beds included a variety of new plants this year. New trees and holly plants now line the edge of the garden, and a new fence, walking path and lights make the space more welcoming and easier to use for the garden team and the volunteers contributing their labor.
The food bank’s garden is not only looking great. It’s also more productive than it has been in years, churning out 1,200 pounds of produce! Most of that haul has gone to CAFB’s partner organizations, who distribute it to neighbors across the region.
The remainder has been used for demonstrations by the food bank’s nutrition education team. Herbs from the garden have gone into tea brewed in the adjacent kitchen, and a recent workshop showcased multiple ways to use fresh beets.
The garden team also hosted their first middle-school group since the renovations were completed. The fall visit, supported through a grant from The Wills Group, included learning firsthand how the garden is maintained, the role of photosynthesis in the growing process, what it’s like to harvest vegetables, and finally using those fresh veggies in a pizza.
The food bank also held a garden launch party in October, celebrating the renovations and kicking off the first of many community gatherings in the new educational space.
As the garden team winds down this growing season and prepares for the colder months, they’re already preparing for next year and how to make the most out of their new tools. They’re planning for more class visits like the one hosted this fall, offering local students more hands-on opportunities to learn.
“We’re working now to figure out how we want to look at the productivity of the garden,” Avery says. “How much do we produce, and then what’s the best way to use it?”
Interested in volunteering in the CAFB garden? Want to bring your middle-school class for a visit? Click to learn more about how to schedule a class visit or a volunteer session (available March to November).