USAG Japan community garden still growing strong

Annie Edwards and her 4-year-old son M. water vegetables in their plot at the Camp Zama and Sagamihara Family Housing Area Community Garden, SFHA, Japan, March 15.
Annie Edwards and her 4-year-old son M. water vegetables in their plot at the Camp Zama and Sagamihara Family Housing Area Community Garden, SFHA, Japan, March 15.

USAG Japan community garden still growing strong

by Winifred Brown
U.S. Army

SAGAMIHARA FAMILY HOUSING AREA, Japan (March 19, 2021) – When the Camp Zama and Sagamihara Family Housing Area Community Garden opened in the summer of 2015, community members were enthusiastic about having a place to grow produce.

Nearly six years later, that enthusiasm endures.

“I have experienced several random acts of kindness while in the garden community,” said Bob Leatherbee, starting his second year at the garden. “Individuals will often mow around all of the plots, not just theirs. People are friendly, and trade plants and seeds, as well as garden tips. You’ll even get warnings and garden status photos after a storm.”

The garden has 13 plots, and Leatherbee and Jason Senders, also a gardener, assign the plots on a first-come, first-serve basis through the Zama/SHA Community Garden group on Facebook. While a plot is not guaranteed to open up before the first planting season, plots do open up eventually, Leatherbee said. Also, sometimes people will reach out to those on the waitlist and offer to share a plot.

Leatherbee, a sergeant first class assigned to the U.S. Army Japan Band, said he has lived at other installations with gardens, but this was the first time he decided to ask for a plot.

“The garden here appealed to me because it is conveniently located at the end of the trail on [SFHA],” Leatherbee said. “It is a way to get outside with my family on a daily basis to weed, plant, water and harvest fruit and vegetables from the garden.”

Last year Leatherbee and his family grew tomatoes, various colors of bell peppers, eggplants, peas, cucumbers, strawberries, cantaloupes, corn and sunflowers.

Others have enjoyed their time at the garden as well.

Annie Edwards, a newcomer, said she is an experienced gardener, but has never had a plot in Asia before, so she looks forward to learning from others.

So far Edwards has planted winter vegetables that include radishes, broccoli, spinach and potatoes, but she also has plans to grow other vegetables this summer, such as zucchini. Then in the fall she plans to plant vegetables such as pumpkins, more potatoes and squash.

“This [gardening] zone is really great for four seasons of gardening,” Edwards said.

Meanwhile, Alina Maris said that while she is a newcomer to the SFHA Community Garden, she has been a gardener for a long time.

Most recently Maris gardened at Fort Jackson, South Carolina, and especially enjoyed spending time outside with her children at the garden during the COVID-19 shutdown.

“I was so happy to hear that this place had [a community garden] too, so that was one of the first things that I reached out for,” Maris said.

So far Maris has planted potatoes, lettuces, spinach, peas and onions, and she looks forward to transplanting tomato and pepper seedlings she has started at home.

“It’s just something productive to do and it’s satisfying to nurture something and see it grown and feed it to your family,” Maris said. “I plan to grow some flowers as well to try and make it pretty too. It’s just my hobby, I guess.”

Those who enjoy the garden can thank former Camp Zama Girl Scout Cadette Aryana Mithwani, who established the garden while working on her Silver Award. It is the highest award possible in Girl Scouting, and cadettes earn it by recognizing a need in the community and fulfilling it using at least 50 service hours.

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