Community Forklift Garden Party celebrates renewal, reuse

Community Forklift's 10th Annual Garden Party & Fundraiser is coming up April 6. Photo courtesy of Community Forklift

By COLLEEN D. CURRAN — Greenthumbs rejoice as Community Forklift’s Annual Garden Party & Fundraiser returns April 6 for its tenth year, with its popular garden supplies sale, a variety of workshops and more vendors than ever before.

“We’re giving new life to old materials,” said Ruthie Mundell, outreach and education director at Community Forklift. “People are looking for reasons to be happy and hopeful,” and this event celebrates spring, reuse and learning, according to Mundell.

Mundell has worked at Community Forklift for almost 14 years and said that since 2005 they have hosted a spring event as a way to get the word out about their nonprofit to the community.

“Everybody knows you can donate a sweater to Goodwill,” Mundell said, “but they have no idea you can donate your kitchen cabinets to a nonprofit.”

The Forklift team started offering special events programming to draw more people to their warehouse a few years in to their spring fundraiser. That was the birth of the garden supplies sale.

“It was a huge hit!,” said Mundell. “In the last few years, we’ve had over 100 people waiting outside the gates before we open. It’s kind of like a Black Friday atmosphere.”

Since then Community Forklift has added new workshops and invited more vendors as the party continues to grow in popularity.

Gardening tools, music and more

The Forklift team collects gardening tools as early as fall for the sale. They test the used tools and price them before selling them to the community. Volunteers from Montgomery Blair High School will help prepare the courtyard this year and organize tool donations before the sale.

The sale begins at 9 a.m., but note that items will continuously be brought out throughout the day rather than all at once. The party officially starts at 10 a.m. and will continue to 3 p.m. Guests dressed in garden party attire will receive prizes and discounts.

County Manners Food Truck will offer tacos, sliders and more and Hyattsville’s Shortcake Bakery will provide small baked goods. This is a kid-friendly, pet-friendly, free event, but cash and cards will be accepted for food, gardening tools and pieces purchased from the warehouse.

Children can learn how to build birdhouses from experts at Anacostia Watershed Society or have their faces painted for free by Signs Wonders and Gifts. A strolling magician will also entertain attendees of all ages while Roxanne Jarrett, The Vivo Cycle and HüsBand play live music throughout the afternoon.

There will be several experts and small business vendors. The Hyattsville Horticultural Society will be selling seed varieties suited to hot summers, gardening books and pamphlets, pots, vases and gardening implements, some of which are collectible, according to society president Victoria Boucher. Boucher, who is also a board member of the Potomac Rose Society, said that a rose expert will teach how to promote varieties of roses that will thrive without the use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides at the party.

For newcomers, Mundell suggests leaving plenty of time to learn from the many experts who will teach workshops on composting and beekeeping. Gardeners from the University of Maryland Extension Master Gardener Program will also be there to teach safe and sustainable horticultural practices.

Community builders, “folks who just love the mission — retirees, college students, stay at home parents, etc.— ” will work the festival to “spread the gospel of reuse,” Mundell said. Volunteers are still welcome and are needed for the week leading up to the party to help decorate, clean, set up and break down.

Parking is available, but Mundell encourages attendees to bike or carpool due to the crowd. Community Forklift offers five days of free storage for items purchased at the show, aside from lumber and masonry.

Sustainable home landscaping ‘how to’

One new workshop this year is on sustainable home landscapes taught by Dani Alexander, a landscape architect of Studio AKA. Alexander’s workshop is designed to provide “real value to homeowners,” she said.

The class will “will walk through landscape design principles … discuss how sustainable site designs include native plants and sustainable materials … help homeowners plan for and imagine new stormwater solutions, and … provide some tips for using planting to reduce energy consumption,” Alexander said.

Alexander will also teach about Get Riversmart!, offered by the Department of Energy and RainScapes offered through the state of Maryland. Each program provides incentives and rebates for homeowners “for such retrofits as planting desirable tree species or creating rain gardens on their site,” Alexander said. “I can’t tell you of a single time where I’ve talked about them with a residential client where they knew about the program already, so it’s definitely worth spreading the news. I think it is going to be a really fun part of the workshop.”

Benefits of local fundraiser

This annual Garden Party is more than just a spring event for Community Forklift. The nonprofit, which began with a handful of people working on a “shoestring budget,” according to Mundell, is now much bigger and more stable today as a result of local support.

“The Garden Party is sort of our annual reminder to people that we are here and we need you to support reuse,” said Mundell.

Community Forklift currently employs more than 40 people due to local fundraising efforts. One-third of their staff has experienced some form of barrier to employment, according to Mundell.

“We don’t hold that [criminal backgrounds, lack of high school degree, etc.] against them,” Mundell said. “We’re very eager to work with folks who come from non-traditional paths.”

Community Forklift’s CEO Nancy J. Meyer offers green jobs starting above minimum wage, health, retirement and paid leave benefits.

“It’s a cool place to work and we’re always trying to get better,” said Mundell.

Community Forklift’s tool sale not only supports employment efforts, but it also contributes to local gardening grants. The nonprofit encourages tool donations throughout the year so unsold tools find a home in local gardens that are part of their community building blocks program.

“Spring is a time for rebirth and renewal,” Mundell said. “And that’s what we’re all about: new lives for the stuff and new lives for the people who work here.”

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