By Connie Ray, Growing for a Healthy Future Project Coordinator, Campus Compact Mid-Atlantic AmeriCorps VISTA, Center for Coastal and Watershed Studies

If you were to visit the Religious Coalition for Human Needs (RCEHN) on DeGrange Street two weeks ago, you’d have found a large, empty lot behind the main building. If you visit it today, however, you will find two large, raised garden beds, 4 feet wide, 8 feet long, and 3 feet high.

These are not your average, run-of-the-mill garden beds, either. These are the realization of an innovative design that directly irrigates the gardens from rooftop runoff that would otherwise run into local streams and pollute our water supply. Instead, the building’s runoff will now be used to grow vegetables for residents of the homeless shelter.

These beds were constructed on Wednesday, Sept. 20 (in 86-degree heat, no less) thanks to the efforts of 16 dedicated volunteers, including six Hood College students, five Aramark employee volunteers, a regular volunteer at the Religious Coalition, three staff/faculty from Hood College, and a Campus Compact Mid-Atlantic AmeriCorps VISTA.

The build day was sponsored by Aramark Dining Services as part of the nation-wide Aramark Building Community day. Hood’s Center for Coastal and Watershed Studies (CCWS) faculty, Drew Ferrier and Claire Hudson, together with AmeriCorps VISTA member Connie Ray, worked with Hood’s Food Services Director, Jennifer Curtis, to coordinate the day. Aramark provided both the funds to construct the beds and five employee volunteers to help on the build day.

The construction couldn’t have gone any more smoothly. Despite the heat and humidity, our team of volunteers worked hard and had fun building and filling our first two raised beds. At times, we were even serenaded by RCEHN volunteer Matt Gibbons on his recorder with tunes like “Oh, Danny Boy” and the Lord of the Rings theme song.

The beds are the first two of a planned seven to be built at the Religious Coalition as part of the new Growing for a Healthy Future project from the CCWS. The program, which started at the end of June, was designed to address two issues of community concern – food insecurity for residents of Frederick’s food deserts and excess stormwater runoff polluting the local watershed.

The pilot vegetable rain garden beds are based on a design tested in Australia but which is new to the United States as far as we know. Water will be piped from the roof’s downspout into perforated pipes beneath garden beds before percolating through gravel and sand filters upward into the garden soil.

Instrumental to this project have been this semester’s six coastal studies students, who helped construct the garden beds and who will be designing and implementing a strategy to monitor water levels and quality.

We still have five beds left to be funded and constructed, but we are off to a great start! It was a proud day to see such collaboration and dedication from our Hood students and faculty and Aramark employees.

We are excited to test these new stormwater mitigation techniques while also helping empower Frederick’s low-income and homeless populations to grow their own healthful produce.

For more information, visit or Growing for a Healthy Future’s Facebook page at To get involved, contact Connie Ray at or 301-696-3289.

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