By Jamillah Muhammad
I recently attended the second EcoWomen urban farming event at the Walker Jones Educational Center. Located in the heart of Washington, DC’s ward 6, it’s the last place you’d expect to see an open plot of land with rows of crops, bee hives, compost piles and pumpkin patches. With busy New Jersey Ave on one side, K Street on another, and a basketball court that sits between the farm and the public housing complexes on 1st St., the farm is like an oasis…albeit surrounded by chain link fencing, but an oasis nonetheless. I’ve done a fair amount of volunteering, but this was my first time on a farm. What I enjoyed the most was learning the science behind all of the decisions that are made, which techniques are used and why, and the challenges that accompany introducing an alternative learning project to a school system not typically open to change.
Once a lot with a dilapidated building on it, it is now home to bees, butterflies, marigolds, corn, cabbage, eggplant, broccoli and numerous other staples for the children to cultivate and eat. Creating a new educational tool, David Himly (a teacher at Walker Jones and a tropical biologist) runs the farm and has fought to add it to the school’s curriculum. The children get a hands-on outdoor escape from the conventional elementary/middle school learning environment, as the farm sits adjacent to the school.
The children learn to cultivate plants and crops, but also learn the science behind farming. Why lavender plants are set next to the beehives, or why the black fly larvae is used for the compost instead of just worms. They learn what a cistern is, how a rain garden works, all while learning to work together and to communicate effectively outside of the classroom.
We worked to clean up, weed, sow seeds and add compost freshly sifted from a large pile at the far end of the lot. It was surprisingly easy to tune out the police cars, fire trucks and other city sounds wailing the background and focus on the experience. Luckily for us the sky stayed overcast for most of the day, keeping the sun out of our eyes as we weeded the rows.
When I think of farming, I used to imagine of acres and acres of land with rows and rows of crops, but now I have a much better understanding of how urban farming works and how a small plot of land can not only feed children physically, but also mentally and emotionally. I look forward to doing it again soon!