Jenna Fournel and Leal Abbatiello, 14, pose for a portrait at their home in Alexandria, Va. on April 30, 2022. Since the start of the pandemic in 2020, Fournel and her son expanded their garden and began harvesting and giving away produce for free to their community. Eric Lee for NPR
Almost every Saturday morning, Jenna Fournel pulls an old wooden table into her front yard and piles it with about 30 pounds of produce.
It all comes from her garden and is free for anyone to grab. There might be greens, eggplants, mini-watermelons, beans or peppers; whatever is in season. Oftentimes, there are also homemade breads and muffins, herbs and flowers.
“It’s just lovely, like you drive by [and] it just looks like this beautiful bounty of generosity,” said Lisa Delmonico, a neighbor who lives right down the street.
Fournel started the “farm stand”, as she calls it, in the summer of 2020, and it eventually became a place where neighbors could interact safely during the pandemic.
Jenna Fournel cuts crops in her home garden in Alexandria, Va. on April 30, 2022. Eric Lee for NPR
The seeds for the effort had quite literally come from a garden that she tends with her 14-year-old son, Leal Abbatiello, and her husband. Her youngest son, Oliver “Oli” Abbatiello, used to help out too.
“It was probably 2018 when the boys were really old enough to start doing their own things in the garden, planting some of their own seeds, and we planted a lot of flowers. That was the first year that we had a bunch of flowers,” she said.
The family lives just down the road from a pet store that also used to house an animal shelter. That summer, Oli, who was in love with animals of all kinds, had the idea to use the flowers to raise money for those animals. They cut the flowers, put them on the curb and sold them.
Leal Abbatiello, 14, washes arugula in a bucket at his home in Alexandria, Va. on April 30, 2022. Eric Lee for NPR
The flower market was a success, and the brothers took their profits to the shelter.
It wasn’t until a couple years later that the family returned to the idea of sharing their bounty. Though this time, it was rooted in grief.
In the fall of 2019, the family took Oli to the hospital for what they thought was a stomach bug. It turned out to be adrenal insufficiency, a condition that rarely happens in children.
“[It was] something that nobody had diagnosed or anticipated was happening with him, and so it was a complete shock to all of us that …….