A community center in Arlington, Virginia, helps teenagers team up with senior citizens to grow plants, raising awareness for environmental preservation, food safety and sustainability.

The intergenerational gardening program at Walter Reed Community Center sees growing demand from locals and its crops have multiplied both in quantity and variety over the last five years since it was launched by no more than a bunch of people. Its success also relies on support from participants to another program run by the center to raise professional gardeners.

“The first year it was just me and one lady with the teens and we just planted lettuce. But then later volunteers came from the Master Gardener program so we could plant different things such as potatoes, zucchini, and my personal favorite, collard greens,” Margo Watters, team program supervisor, told The Arlington Connection (TAC) for a May 22 report.

As part of the team program, participants have so far grown many herbs and vegetables from mint, carrots, tomatoes, potatoes and radishes to jalapeno peppers, zucchini, eggplants and even watermelons.

“We let the teenagers and the volunteers take home the produce and at the end of the season, we will have a party with salad and appetizers from the garden,” Watters is quoted as saying in the same report.

And everything here is taken so seriously. Even the volunteers go to classes so they can assist with adult supervision on decisions about what to plant when and discover the enemies and friends of particular plants. Still, though, there remain things that could only be learned by practice, and sometimes through making wrong calls.

Karole Lieber, a volunteer with the program, explained TAC how the participants are immersed in gardening both through theory and practice. She said they help the younger participants record everything so they can keep track of the dates each seed is planted, when they are watered and measure how the plants are progressing. “And we learn a lot by our own mistakes,” she added.

Much More than a Backyard 

Aside from its garden, Walter Reed Community Center features meeting, games and multipurpose rooms, a gymnasium, public computer use, free Wi-Fi access and healthy vending machines as well. Seniors exploring post-retirement options also socialize with peers and others at the center’s cafe

The center also has a vegetated roof and bio-retention area to help fight the impact of climate change. It is structured in a way that aims to meet the silver standard of Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED), the most widely used green building rating system in the world.

The adjacent park amenities include tennis, pickleball and basketball courts as well as a larger green space than that of the center and a playground for children.

Walter Reed Community Center is located at 2909 16th Street S in Arlington and remains open from 8:30 a.m. to late evening every workday, from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Saturdays and from 1 p.m. to 7 p.m. on Sundays.