Jake Ifshin would much prefer to be in the dirt than behind a desk. The 31-year-old Bethesda resident is the executive director of Everybody Grows, a nonprofit organization which advocates healthy living through gardening. He recently started his own venture, Ifshin Gardens, which helps groups build their own gardens as a way to cultivate friendships and relationships.
How do you see gardening as building community?
I think all the gardens I build become really great gathering places for community. This is a reason to get outside and be with other people. It is something to talk about, if you are a senior and your grandkids come and visit. [Ifshin built a garden at Atrium Village, a retirement community in Baltimore.] You can take [grandchildren] to the garden and show them what you’ve grown. You can pick [vegetables] from the garden and cook something. We see people are always making salads or eating in the garden.
How did you become interested in gardening?
I was a teacher in the area and I taught at a Jewish preschool called Temple Emanuel Early Childhood Center. I was running a music program. I volunteered to take on their gardening program because I thought it was an interesting opportunity to get outside and work with the kids. My family had gotten really into gardening and had started farming in Virginia. So I took on this gardening program and fell in love with it. My favorite part of the day was working in the garden with the kids and seeing their responses to it all.
What prompted you to start Ifshin Gardens?
As I got better at gardening and I met more people in the area, [people started asking me] to start edible garden programs for their employees or at their communities. I saw a business opportunity there. And so this year, I started working with three different communities as a private contractor doing edible gardening.
What is edible gardening?
When I say edible gardening, I mean both building the gardens for people but also coming in and doing hands-on educational programming events for the community. This year I started working with [Atrium Village retirement community] in Baltimore. We do special raised-bed gardens which are wheelchair accessible, and you can roll your wheelchair up to it and anyone can garden in it. That was my first big project as Ifshin Gardens. I just did a rooftop garden [for a business] and we’re going to do an employee wellness program for them. We work with employees to look at their backyards and try to get them inspired to start growing at home.
Where does your passion for gardening come from?
I like doing this with other people, but I’m also fascinated with the long, slow processes. I’m a foodie, so I think it’s a way to share my love of food and a way to share my love of nature. I also think the garden is fascinating from a scientific perspective. Especially working with children, you can look at the garden as a laboratory or a sandbox to play with. To me, it’s always an experiment, you’re always testing and using your senses. I love getting my hands in the dirt and the sensations of it.
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