The News Desk is a collection of news, notes and breaking items affecting the Fredericksburg community.
Garden helps Hazel Hill grow sense of community
BY LINDLEY ESTES
When Bonnie Silver looks out of her front door in Hazel Hill, she sees sunflowers, tomato plants, and the slow creep of squash vines rather than a maze of apartment buildings, her view a few years ago.
The community garden in Fredericksburg’s Hazel Hill neighborhood, begun in 2010 by the Fredericksburg Area Food Bank, was given over for sole use by residents of the city complex this year.
Silver, who has a plot in the garden, said she was originally against having it just outside her door. She worried that the garden would take over the space where she has cookouts and would hamper her ability to see her children play.
She changed her mind when 6-year-old daughter, Disaya Spinner, became interested in gardening.
Since then, Silver has become the garden’s biggest advocate.
“I grew tomatoes, cucumbers, squash, radishes and lettuce this year,” she said. “I’ve been eating them every week. I’m trying to do something different, something healthy. If my daughter would leave it alone I could cook salads and cucumber shooters and stuffed tomatoes, but she just grabs the vegetables, cuts them and goes.”
The garden is proof of an ongoing renewal at Hazel Hill.
According to the National Housing Trust, Hazel Hill Apartments was once the picture of a failing HUD-assisted property.
The trust stated in a profile of the community: “By early 2004, the property had twice failed HUD’s property inspections. The owner was facing foreclosure, and residents, many of whom had lived in their homes for 30 years, were facing displacement. With housing prices skyrocketing in the city, losing the 147 affordable homes would have been a serious setback for the Fredericksburg community.”
The trust acquired the property in July 2004 and sank $7 million into restoration.
The community, on the east end of Princess Anne Street, also has a community enrichment program in which police patrol the area. A resident services coordinator and part-time nurse were hired.
Nurse Kathie Bramlette takes an interest in the residents’ nutrition. She is an advocate of the garden and has helped residents put together a cookbook, using ingredients grown there.
Lindsey Williams, fresh foods program manager for the area food bank, said seven women responded to their call for resident gardeners when they turned the plots over.
These seven grow cucumbers, tomatoes, green beans, peppers, kale and sunflowers
Resident Alice Armstead said she just likes seeing things grow.
“I love it,” she said. “It’s beautiful to watch. I grew up on a farm. I just love picking it, and it tastes so good.”
She shares a plot with Delphine Grigsby and Maxcine Fleming. They call themselves “the sisters.”
“There’s nothing better than nice, fresh vegetables,” Fleming said.
One resident gardener, Brenda Lucas, goes out to the garden with her salt shaker and eats tomatoes straight off the vine.
Armstead and fellow gardener Gloria Lucas give produce to other residents, particularly the elderly.
“I really like sharing it,” Lucas said. “I try to help everyone out.”
Lucas has lived in Hazel Hill for almost 40 years and remembers gardening lessons from her mother.
“She taught me how to turn the dirt I’ve always liked to garden. Like the old saying goes, ‘Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach him how to fish and he feeds himself forever.’”
Another resident gardener, Angela Lawson–Smith said that she does not just come out for the sheer pleasure of gardening.
She said the garden supplements her grocery budget, which is important as she is a single parent on a limited income.
Each of the women working in the garden likes to cook and contributed to the cookbook that Bramlette is putting together to hand out at the apartment’s health fair this month.
“I suggested a cookbook because all these women are good cooks,” she said. “A lot of people here get food stamps, so they have to conform to what they can get to cook with. But these women still put out good food.”
Included are recipes for baked summer squash, baked and fried tomatoes, salads and other foods.
One favorite dish was cucumber-and-tomato salad, and almost every gardener sent in a version.
But the book isn’t just for recipes. The gardeners shared stories about themselves too.
Armstead included a section about growing up on a self-sustaining farm. She describes canning vegetables, slaughtering farm animals, and cutting wheat to be ground into flour.
The residents also have a four-part nutrition class offered to them this summer. They learn about the benefits of fresh food, and Bramlette serves nutritious snacks.
“It’s supposed to be healthy food, but if I didn’t bring dip they’d mutiny,” she said.
Bramlette said that these programs also serve to get the residents out and talking to each other.
“Hazel Hill is different from many communities of this sort,” she said. “They try hard to have programs for residents. It’s all free and there’s a lot for residents to do. We’re the only community in the area with a nurse.”
Bonnie Silver’s cucumber shots
Use any number of cucumbers, depending on how many you will feed.
Directions: 1. Cut 2–3 inch circles across cucumber. 2. Scoop out the middle (seeds). 3. Mix shrimp (canned or fresh cooked, chopped), diced tomatoes and a small amount of fresh cilantro. 4. Stuff centers of circles with shrimp mix. Serve.
Alice Armstead’s Sliced Tomatoes and Cucumbers
Directions: 1. Wash vegetables and slice thin. 2. Place on a plate. Add pinches of salt, pepper, dill weed and sugar (or Splenda) on top. 3. Place in refrigerator and chill for at least one hour. Enjoy!
Lindley Estes: 540/735-1976
Gloria Lucas’ Fried Green Tomatoes
2–4 green tomatoes
cup of flour, in a small dish
1 or 2 eggs, beaten in a small dish
About a cup of vegetable oil
1. Cut tomatoes into 1-inch thick pieces.
2. Dredge them in flour, dip in egg and re-dredge in flour.
3. In medium skillet heat oil and add flour-covered tomatoes. Fry quickly in oil until golden brown.
4. Remove and place on a paper towel to drain. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Recipes from: The Hazel Hill Cookbook
ANGELA LAWSON–SMITH’S BAKED PARMESAN TOMATOES
4 tomatoes cut in half horizontally
cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1 teaspoon fresh chopped oregano
Freshly ground pepper to taste
4 teaspoons olive oil
1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
2. Place tomatoes cut side up on a baking sheet.
3. Top with Parmesan cheese, oregano, salt and pepper.
4. Drizzle with olive oil and bake until tomatoes are tender and the cheese is golden brown, about 15 minutes.