On the Menu: Fire Station Vegetable Gardens

fire fighters tending a veggie garden

On the Menu logoEditor’s Note:

We all love food, driven by our own tastes for flavor. You may be a “foodie” or maybe you’d prefer no label — you just like good food.

Here in Fairfax County, we have deep roots to food as most of the land we now live on was agricultural back in the day. Our county (and region) also features a diverse banquet of ethnic food.

Food can bring us together, while at times, it can lead to passionate debates about the best _____ in the area. As we enjoy food every day, there are many layers to the life of food in Fairfax County, as well events that may be of interest.

“On the Menu” articles will feature news and information that intersects the food world and local government/community. Articles will include a range of food stories from farmers markets to policy to food pantries to fun food features, such as this one about fire station vegetable gardens.


 

When they’re not putting out fires, Fairfax County firefighters might be found putting plants in the ground.

More and more stations are starting their own gardens to grow fresh produce. North Point Station 39 in Herndon is just one of many stations countywide where members put down their hoses and pick up garden hoes during down time. The crew started their garden about five years ago, and today they are able to enjoy locally grown tomatoes, peppers, squash, cucumbers and herbs with just a small bit of extra work each week.

“I had worked at other stations through my career that had gardens,” explains Joseph Kieler, a fireman at North Point station who first brought the idea of planting to his crew.

fire fighters tilling a garden

The garden at North Point is a relatively small plot of land, compared to the huge ones at other stations. But it still requires tilling at the beginning of each year and care throughout the growing season. Members of the shifts usually start with seeds, cultivating small plants at home and then bringing them back to North Point as it gets closer to planting time. Throughout the year, the shifts take turns watering, both with sprinklers and by hand, and they rotate who weeds and tends to the plants.

The garden is usually a station project with all shifts helping and each shift gets to reap the harvest. It takes very little time unless weeds get bad. Most work is usually done during free time in the evening when the weather is cooler.Joseph Kieler, Fire and Rescue Department

 

Kieler has a large garden at home and enjoys having access to fresh vegetables, so the suggestion to tend a plot of land seemed natural to him. However, the task of planting a vegetable garden presented a new challenge for some of his fellow firefighters.

“For me,” says Rolando Contreras, “I had never grown a garden so the experience seemed rewarding; so much so that I decided to also plant one at home. This year was the first time I started with seeds for my garden, and now my wife and kids join me at home watering and taking care of our garden.”

The crews learn new tricks each year as they continue to expand the garden. Contreras recalls one time when a retired member brought in a pickup load of what he called composted dirt. What the crew didn’t realize was that there were turkey bones mixed in the compost, which also made the compost emit a pretty strong odor they weren’t quite prepared for. Contreras says it all turned out well in the end though, “After we got over the smell, we realized that it actually helped our plants grow and produce better.”

In addition to his own personal satisfaction, Contreras feels that the garden project provides a good team-building experience for the firefighters at the station.

Even though they are on different shifts, he says that all of the members have to work together in order for the garden to succeed.

Kieler agrees that the garden helps incorporate what they call “shift bonding” at his station, and that most who put work in feel satisfied with what they get back. “It gives everyone who participates a sense of accomplishment. It is rewarding to grow your own produce, although it can be a lot of hard work,” says Kieler.

“It’s also a good way to save money on dinners,” adds Contreras. “I am happy that all of the shifts enjoy the fruits of our garden.”

 

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