It Takes a Garden to Raise a Village

The first thing I noticed entering the Scotland neighborhood in Potomac Maryland is that eyes were on me. But not in a bad way, in a way that felt safe and protected. Maybe I was just being paranoid. Those eyes were probably just waiting on kids to arrive from school. It was that time of day after all. The scene reminded me of an old school way of living where neighbors actually knew each other, and someone always knew who was coming in and outside the neighborhood. A type of community that if you were doing the wrong thing at the wrong time, you would definitely getting snitched on by someone’s auntie or grandmother. 

I hopped out of my Uber to find Ronald Martin aka Ron, the Recreation Specialist at the Scotland Neighborhood Recreation Center. When I entered the community center it had a new yet home-like vibe to it. If it wasn’t the obvious centerpiece and biggest building in the culdesac shaped area, I would have had thought it was just another home. It looked like it belonged and fit perfectly in that way. 

I enter the community center to find a young lady probably in her mid-teens working the desk who greeted me and told me that Ron would be with me soon. As I waited I noticed how nice the building was and all the different resources at the communities disposable. There was a gym, computer lab, gathering hall and game room making the place a sanctuary with plenty to do for the entire neighborhood. I also saw a few kids coming into the building hanging out and engaging with each other as kids do. 

Ron came out to greet me and we eventually found a place to sit down and do our interview at a picnic table near a fenced garden area. Ron brought out this big insect candle to put out on our table so the mosquitos wouldn’t eat us up too bad. The building and most of the neighborhood is completely surrounded by forest and a man-made trail that leads to the Potomac River. Although this makes for beautiful scenery, my ankles and wrist never stood a chance. Unfortunately, after many fumbles with technology I decided to just pursue this interview of Ron and Scotland with the good old conversation, here were some of my key takeaways:

The Story of Ron

Ron is a product of the DMV, he has served the county for over 19 years and has been assigned to now his 3rd community center. He does more than lead the community in its day to day operations, he also serves as an on-site garden liaison for Everybody Grows and is a Tae- Kon- Do instructor. The kids greet him with respect but also fondness upon starting to arrive on-site after school. He jokes around with the kids during my visit. It’s not hard to see that Ron is committed to the kids and they are equally committed to him. You can tell that there is much love for Ron in the community. When I asked Ron, what it’s really like for the kids growing up around here he says “They treat their kids like gold”. But he didn’t have to tell me that I could see it in their faces that they were loved and well looked after. 

The Impact of the Garden 

The impact the garden has on the community is significant for the small amount of land it takes up. Ron talked to me about how it’s not just the kids interested in learning about good food and it’s the effect on their bodies, but also the adults as well. The kid’s excitement reaches back to their homes, and parents become just as invested in the garden. The beautiful brick path leading up to the garden space to the main building is a contribution of one of the families that lived in the neighborhood. The kids are highly engaged and excited about whatever is growing in the garden. I witness them first handpicking and eating some of the newer peppers ready to be harvested. I asked one of the young people, “that looks good what type of pepper is that”? She continued to eat and responded, “ It’s a pepper” in a very a matter of fact type way. I smiled and let her continue to eat her pepper in peace. It was awesome to see how fond she was of that pepper, she ate multiple and harvested it like a pro. When I  spoke with Ron about the importance of growing food, he discussed how back in the day, growing up we at least saw where our food came from. Montgomery County is rapidly becoming more urban but it was a rural place not too long ago. That’s why it’s so important to have a garden now in order to bridge that disconnect between people who live in more urban areas to the land. 

The History of Scotland 

The history of Scotland is one of the first of its kind in Montgomery county. Starting back in the 1880s the land was first settled by former African American slaves. The community has been around for hundreds of years. Scotland was originally known as the “Snakes Den” from all it slithering inhabitants in the area. Everyone who lived in that neighborhood was literally and figuratively family. Whenever one of the family members felt threatened, you had to deal with the whole neighborhood. They were a formidable and resourceful group that no one wanted any smoke with. To this day the descendants of the original people who settle on the land long ago still live in this neighborhood.

The Diversity of the Neighborhood

Although there is a lot of history in Scotland, many things have changed over time including its residents. It’s no longer just the descendant of the people who founded the land but also the diverse groups of multicultural people. For an individual neighborhood, it’s one of the more diverse ones I’ve ever seen. You can find people from, Egypt, Sudan, Ghana, and African Americas all living in close proximity to each other. There are around ten different nations represented on one street in the community. Ron discusses cultural diversity through one of his favorite hobbies which is map-making. When listening to the different backgrounds and culture of where the community attendants came from, Ron actually draws out the map based on just a few references and stories the children tell him. He says, “ The kids tell stories of their culture and I turn them into pictures”. Once he completes them in about a day or two, he posts those maps on the wall for all to see. It is truly a cultural exchange and a melting pot. 

Scotland is what happens when a community takes the saying ” It takes a village to raise a child” and runs with it. When adults actually care and resources are fought for, through people like Ron, good things happen. Is it perfect? No. But no place is, it takes a lot of hard work. But when everybody chips in the neighborhood take care of itself. The kids take responsibility for their community just like the adults do because they know they matter. It’s a place were hangouts for destructive behavior become rain gardens, and were the warmth of a community becomes the fire in the soul of its youth who inhabits it.